Mutha’ Is Half a Word

Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Female Culture

L. H. Stallings

Black Performance and Cultural Criticism


African American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay & Lesbian Studies
334 pp. 6x9

$34.95 paper 978-0-8142-5160-7
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Table of Contents


“Stallings’s book breaks new ground in Black cultural studies and queer theory—even audiences well versed in both fields will find something new here. It accomplishes the admirable task of seeing the queer in common but discounted contexts. . . . With the skill and audacity of a trickster, [Stallings] honors the difference, desire, and pleasure of Black women’s multiple and diverse sexualities.” —Feminist Formations

“The trickster machinations that Stallings describes are useful tools for reading across a number of literary and social registers. Her examination of everything from lesbian slave mistresses to Lil’ Kim’s gritty lyrics to Eshu’s nipples is pioneering in its scope and daring in its execution.” —Valerie Lee, professor of English, The Ohio State University

“L. H. Stallings has performed a heroic feat—engaging a wide and necessary body of scholarship while finding a place for her own unique and thoughtful voice. She strikes a terrific balance between Black cultural studies and queer studies. Her work here is beautiful and stands in the tradition of scholars like Trudier Harris. Bravo!” —Kevin Everod Quashie, associate professor and chair of Afro-American studies, Smith College

Mutha’ Is Half a Word: Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Female Culture explores the importance of sexual desire in the formation of radical Black females’ subjectivities in Black women’s culture through the trope of the indefinable trickster figure. L. H. Stallings offers distinct close readings of understudied African American women’s texts through a critical engagement with folklore and queer theory. To date, most studies on the trickster figure have rarely reflected the boldness and daring of the figure itself. Emblematic of change and transgression, the trickster has inappropriately become the methodological tool for conservative cultural studies analysis. Mutha’ Is Half a Word strives to break that convention.

This book provides a much-needed analysis of trickster tradition in regard to gender, sexuality, and Black female sexual desire. It is the only study to focus specifically on trickster figures and African American female culture. In addition, it contributes to conversations regarding the cultural representation of Black female desire in ways that are not strategically invested in heteronormative binaries of male/female and heterosexual/homosexual. The study is distinctly different because it explores folklore, vernacular, and trickster strategies of queerness alongside theories of queer studies to create new readings of desire in literary texts, hip-hop and neo-soul music, and comedic performances by Black females.

L. H. Stallings is assistant professor of English at the University of Florida.