For the "Dark Star": Reading womanism & black womanhood in the novels of Caryl Phillips

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Representations of black women in literature by black men received much critical attention in the latter part of the twentieth century. Frances Smith Foster argues that "black men shared the nineteenth century predilection for defining women . . . and for limiting the female protagonist." Trudier Harris' book Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin examined the literature of the twentieth century's most impactful African American male writer and his persistent portrayal of black women as morally constrained. More recently, Curdella Forbes' From Nation to Diaspora: Sam Selvon, George Lamming and the Cultural Performance of Gender explored several depictions of women in Afro-Caribbean literature. Yet this area of study has not been exhausted, and it seems necessary to pursue it with regard to Caryl Phillips, one of the most prolific writers in the African diaspora today. Phillips' work has already garnered attention for its ability to authentically represent women's voices. His novels Cambridge and The Nature of Blood in particular have been highly praised for their female narrators, and Phillips has discussed the ease with which he engages women's voices. This essay aims to advance the study of Phillips' unique and varied portrayal of women by analyzing his depiction of black women in Dancing in the Dark, The Nature of Blood, and The Final Passage. The article explores how women in the world of Phillips' texts navigate the physical and emotional spaces of intimacy in which their voices and experiences initially seem to be occluded by men's stories. I argue that Phillips offers nuanced depictions of black women which bend, break, and at times reify so as to critique well-established and often controversial literary archetypes of blackness, revealing that his fiction works in what Gary L. Lemons describes as a pro-woman(ist) mode.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-76
Number of pages28
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2017 Johns Hopkins University Press and the University of Calgary.


  • Black intimacy
  • Black womanhood
  • Caryl Phillips
  • Prowoman(ist)
  • Womanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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