Practice, Practice, Practice: Innovative Feminist Literary Criticism

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2004


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Linda A. Kinnahan

Committee Member

Daniel Watkins

Committee Member

Magali Cornier Michael


autobiography, Black feminism, creative criticism, poet-scholar


This study examines four volumes of literary criticism that not only discuss but also enact feminist principles. While feminist literary criticism commonly critiques textual representations of gender, works to establish women's traditions, and attends to issues of multiculturalism, scholarship embracing nontraditional approaches goes further as it challenges masculinist assumptions about the aims and methods of textual interpretation. Such work has helped to stretch the boundaries of what is considered legitimate critical practice as it endeavors to make criticism more applicable to the socio-material realm.

Each chapter locates the volume under discussion in terms of feminist encounters with specific critical discourses and traditions. Chapter One examines Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983) to demonstrate that Walker's use of a performative personal criticism drawing on traditions of oral narrative allows her to challenge injustices by simultaneously pointing to concrete specifics and to broader social trends. Chapter Two analyzes Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson (1985) in terms of its engagement with lineage studies and new historicism. As Howe introduces layers of texts that draw together networks of readers, writers, and cultural communities, she is able to recognize both problematic cultural forces and possibilities of change. Chapter Three explores Rachel Blau DuPlessis's The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (1990) as an example of politically productive poststructural play. In her creative analyses, DuPlessis brings critical work and lived experiences into contact with one another while promoting a model of knowledge rooted in communal processes. Finally, Chapter Four focuses on bell hooks's Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics (1990) to argue that hooks draws on cultural studies traditions and revises postmodern practices in order to communicate complex ideas about gender and race in an accessible style. Together, the volumes of Walker, Howe, DuPlessis, and hooks present a wide array of possibilities for experimental feminist literary criticism that is actively committed to social change.





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