Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women
Royster, Jacqueline Jones
Traces of a Stream offers a unique scholarly perspective that merges interests in rhetorical and literacy studies, United States social and political theory, and African American women writers. Focusing on elite nineteenth-century African American women who formed a new class of women well positioned to use language with consequence, Royster uses interdisciplinary perspectives (literature, history, feminist studies, African American studies, psychology, art, sociology, economics) to present a well-textured rhetorical analysis of the literate practices of these women.
Jacqueline Jones Royster, associate professor of English at the Ohio State University, has three complementary areas of interest: the rhetorical history of women of African descent, the development of literacy, and delivery systems for the teaching of writing. Royster was a member of the editorial collective of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women (1983–1996), with whom she co-edited Double-Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters; she also edited Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892–1900, and served as the consulting author for composition of Writer’s Choice, Grades 6–8.
“Traces of a Stream is stunning. I would recommend it with great enthusiasm to anyone interested in nineteenth-century studies, African American studies, women’s studies, or composition and rhetoric. Royster brings to light writers whose work is simply not included in the current research on literacy. And the primary sources she draws on—especially those periodicals with which nineteenth-century African American women writers were associated—serve as a powerful reminder that scholars interested in literacy and social change have only begun to explore nineteenth-century archives.”—Lucille M. Schultz, University of Cincinnati
“In this engaging new work, Royster shows how eloquent, well-educated black women used essay writing as an act of resistance against white oppression. The periodical press became an ally of these courageous women, publishing early civil rights and anti-lynching essays by Maria W. Wtewart, Ida B. Wells, and other writers of sociopolitical import. According to Royster, literacy and knowledge were crucial for the success of the community, and she documents the history of African American schooling from antebellum times, when slaves were taught to read despite legal sanctions, to the later rise of historically black colleges. She also profiles a number of prominant black women educators and discusses the Black Clubwomen’s movement for public discourse. Highly recommended for most libraries.”—Library Journal, June 1, 2000
“Not only is “Traces” a significant intellectual contribution to literacy studies, it is also a passionate labor of love. ... “Traces” challenges the practices of white privilege which deny the intellectual authority of African American women writers. In doing so this book makes a pivotal contribution to sociocultural studies in literacy, women’s studies and the history of African American women’s growth as writers.”Marlia E. Banning, Legacy, vol. 18, no. 2, 2001
“ . . . more than an ethnographic history or rhetorical analysis: It is a manifesto of survival of African-American women writing themselves into public subjects, and a template of affirmation for contemporary scholars of womanist, feminist, African-American, and ethnic rhetorics who want their work taken seriously on its own terms.”Vorris Nunley & Cheryl Glenn, Rhetoric Review, rec’d September 2002
“Articulates multiple purposes. . . . At once informative and moving, a foray into uncharted waters that celebrates the spirited voyages of ancestors. It is an extraordinary accomplishement.”--Angela G. Ray, Argumentation and Advocacy, Spring 2003
Traces of a Stream offers a unique scholarly perspective that merges interests in rhetorical and literacy studies, United States social and political theory, and African American women writers. Focusing on elite nineteenth-century African American women who formed a new class of women well positioned to use language with consequence, Royster uses interdisciplinary perspectives (literature, history, feminist studies, African American studies, psychology, art, sociology, economics) to present a well-textured rhetorical analysis of the literate practices of these women. With a shift in educational opportunity after the Civil War, African American women gained access to higher education and received formal training in rhetoric and writing. By the end of the nineteenth-century, significant numbers of African American women operated actively in many public arenas.
In her study, Royster acknowledges the persistence of disempowering forces in the lives of African American women and their equal perseverance against these forces. Amid these conditions, Royster views the acquisition of literacy as a dynamic moment for African American women, not only in terms of their use of written language to satisfy their general needs for agency and authority, but also to fulfill socio-political purposes as well.
Traces of a Stream is a showcase for nineteenth-century African American women, and particularly elite women, as a group of writers who are currently underrepresented in rhetorical scholarship. Royster has formulated both an analytical theory and an ideological perspective that are useful in gaining a more generative understanding of literate practices as a whole and the practices of African American women in particular. Royster tells a tale of rhetorical prowess, calling for alternative ways of seeing, reading, and rendering scholarship as she seeks to establish a more suitable place for the contributions and achievements of African American women writers.