The first edition of The Black Woman, edited by Toni Cade Bambara, was published in 1970 by the New American Library in New York, NY. This is an anthology that features poetry, essays, and stories by Black women, some of who were writers, authors, as well as students. This Bridge, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, was at first published by the Persephone Press 1981 but eventually found its publishing home with the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1983 in its second edition. This anthology features poems, stories, and essays written by a variety of women of color who were Black, Asian, Latina, and Native American, some of who were already established writers and some who wrote for the first time in this anthology.
As educational tools, anthologies often concern themselves with the identities of their audience (Di Leo 8). The Black Woman anthology is clearly created, from its presentation to its content, with its readership in mind: Black women. It was first in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s that books began to be created specifically for Black people. This anthology, published in 1970, was published as part of this movement. These books did not shy away from explicitly framing themselves as “Black” and provided “a particular type of public space that aimed to offer a privacy for the ideal black readers” (Crawford 189). Furthermore, these books were concerned with turning the narrative of white culture collecting black culture by assembling a “black collection of blackness” (Crawford 193). Books of this era were created strategically to cater to its audience and eliminate the whiteness that pervaded their narratives.
In the creation of The Black Woman: An Anthology, Toni Cade Bambara recognized the need to curate a book specifically for Black women especially when Black women themselves did not write the dominant narratives about them. She notes in the preface:
Bambara reveals the often isolating position that Black women stood, brushed aside by numerous sides of society, by white and Black men as well as their white feminist counterparts. It was exactly this lack of place that “heralded an effort by black women to define themselves” (Wall 2). For Black women writers, their speaking is “a requisite part of claiming a self” (Wall 11). The authors of the content in The Black Woman understand the stakes of their silence.
When the experts (white or Black, male) turn their attention to the Black woman, the reports get murky, for they usually clump the men and women together and focus so heavily on what white people have done to the psyches of Blacks, that what Blacks have done to and for themselves is overlooked, and what distinguishes the men from the women forgotten. (Bambara, “Preface” 8).
This Bridge continues to build off of the foundation that The Black Woman laid and was also concerned with the self-determined definitions of women of color. Editors Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa write that the anthology aims to define feminism by “intends to reflect an uncompromised definition of feminism” (“Introduction” xxiii). The anthology is also uncompromising in presenting for whom the book is written. Moraga specifically notes how the anthology is a space for women of color and writes, “This book is written for all the women in it and all whose lives our lives will touch. We are a family who first only knew each other in our dreams, who have come together on these pages to make faith a reality and to bring all of our selves to bear down hard on that reality (Moraga, “Preface” xix). In this quote, she discusses how this community could only be imagined in dreams before the creation of this anthology because there was no space for that community yet in society. However, she likens that this book is a physical, tangible testament to the community they all are committed to fostering. This selective inclusion of women of color authors shows that women of color will ultimately be the ones to determine what that community looks like for them and not anyone else.
Furthermore, both anthologies include a wide variety of works from a diverse group of authors, creating an inclusive community in the face of a publishing industry that dictates which narratives are dominant and mainstream. Some argue that one of the goals of an anthology is to collect the “best of what has been thought and said - and already published” (Di Leo 4). However, those who hold the power to be published – mainly white men – get to “determine the ideas which are deemed valuable” (Christian, “Race for Theory” 52). For those marginalized in society and do not hold power, like women of color, their voices are not labeled as valuable and thus were rarely published.
The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, publisher of the second edition of This Bridge, understood the necessity small grass roots operation by women of color in a publishing industry dominated by white men (Smith 11). Moraga and Anzaldúa, in creating the anthology, “learned why so few women of color attempt this kind of project – no money to fall back on” and took on numerous jobs to sustain themselves in the process (“Introduction" xxv). To create anthologies that defied this industry was no easy feat and showed the determination of the editors and publishers to create and disseminate these anthologies.
Moreover, many in high academia ignore the creative works of women of color and silence their voices in favor of “ mechanical analyses of language, graphs, algebraic equations [...] its gross generalizations about culture” (Christian, “Race for Theory” 53). As Barbara Christian puts it, “[P]eople of color have always theorized - but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic” ("Race for Theory" 52). The section in This Bridge titled “Theory in the Flesh” speaks to Christian’s notion and asserts, “We are interested in pursuing a society that uses flesh and blood experiences to concretize a vision that can begin to heal our ‘wounded knee’” (Moraga and Anzaldúa, This Bridge Called My Back 23). The women of color involved in the creation of these anthologies understand how their lived experiences shape how they see and theorize the world.
These anthologies work to create an inclusive environment that values the ideas and experiences of women of color, all pieces of which have been cast aside by white male dominated scholarship. In The Black Woman, we see creative works like poems “Naturally” by Audre Lorde and “Woman Poem” by Nikki Giovanni alongside more formal essays like Frances Beale’s “Double Jeopardy”. This placement asserts that the creative and informal writing by Black women are just as worthy of studying as formal essays. By doing so, the anthology challenges the publishing industry’s erasure of the narratives of Black women and gives space to these Black women to know that their works are very much needed and valid. Ultimately, these works anthologized in The Black Woman are challenging what is deemed traditional scholarship. This Bridge, too, includes creative works, personal narratives, and essays, continuing this model of challenging scholarship.
Both anthologies further complicate the mainstream understanding of scholarship through its selection of contributors. This Bridge acknowledges that “[m]ost of the women appearing in this book are first-generation writers” and that some of them do not identify as writers “but pull the pen across the page anyway or speak with the power of poets” (Moraga and Anzaldúa, “Introduction” xxiv). Similarly, for The Black Woman, the main criteria for inclusion in the anthology were that “[a]ll are alive, are Black, are women” (Bambara, “Preface” 11). These anthologies created opportunities for women of color, especially those with less class privilege, to be heard and validated. Therefore, this curating of works by a diverse group of women of color deconstructs the class hierarchies involved inherently in scholarship and high academia. Furthermore, anthologies often have the power to influence political and cultural agendas (Di Leo 2). By elevating the voices of those who did not have the privilege or opportunity to have engaged with publishing or what is deemed “scholarship,” these anthologies give these women political power. The effect of this is to create an equitable and inclusive community of women of color, refusing to let society’s classism divide their connections to one another.
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