Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalist 2014

The Queer Limit of Black Memory

Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution

Matt Richardson

Black Performance and Cultural Criticism


Literary criticism/African American; Literary criticism/Women authors
256 pp. 6x9

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Table of Contents


“This well-researched, well-argued book grew out of Richardson’s visit to San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, where he noted the absence of black queer histories. In his introduction, Richardson (Univ. of Texas, Austin) states his intent to consider ‘the impact of Black vernacular culture from a queer theoretical perspective, specifically revising the function of performance, blues, and jazz as structures that enable gender transition and fluidity as well as same-sex desire.’ In the book’s five chapters Richardson examines female same-sex slave narratives; novelist Cherry Muhanji’s Her, which follows working-class black women in Detroit in the 1950s; Sharon Bridgeforth’s performance novel love conjure/blues; Jackie Kay’s first novel, Trumpet; and Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here. One of the book’s persistent themes is the transgressive nature of black lesbian love and its alienation from mainstream heterosexual black experience; in fact, being black and queer can be seen as something the white dominant (former colonizer) culture has foisted on an already oppressed black community. Richardson concludes that ‘being black and queer and living in the world is a dangerous proposition’; the courageous artists, writers, and performers lifted up here make these long-silenced voices speak. Valuable in African American history and queer/GLBT studies and literature. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” —C. Machado, Norwalk Community College

The Queer Limit of Black Memory is compelling interdisciplinary work which fills an existing void in many fields, and that void is scholarship on Black lesbian and transgendered subjects. Matt Richardson provides a wealth of knowledge and insights that many will be relying on for years to come.” —L. H. Stallings, associate professor of gender studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution identifies a new archive of Black women’s literature that has heretofore been on the margins of literary scholarship and African diaspora cultural criticism. It argues that Black lesbian texts celebrate both the strategies of resistance used by queer Black subjects and the spaces for grieving the loss of queer Black subjects that dominant histories of the African diasporas often forget. Matt Richardson has gathered an understudied archive of texts by LaShonda Barnett, S. Diane Adamz-Bogus, Dionne Brand, Sharon Bridgforth, Laurinda D. Brown, Jewelle Gomez, Jackie Kay, and Cherry Muhanji in order to relocate the queerness of Black diasporic vernacular traditions, including drag or gender performance, blues, jazz, and West African spiritual and religious practices.

Richardson argues that the vernacular includes queer epistemologies, or methods for accessing and exploring the realities of Black queer experience that other alternative archives and spaces of commemoration. The Queer Limit of Black Memory brings together several theorists whose work is vital within Black studies—Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Frantz Fanon, and Orlando Patterson—in service of queer readings of Black subjectivity.

Matt Richardson is assistant professor of English and African and African Diaspora Studies and affiliate faculty with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.