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A Deeper Shade of Purple: 10 Essential Womanist Texts



"Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender" - Alice Walker.

We've complied a list of ten essential texts for womanists. While this list is no where comprehensive, it covers a wide range of womanist topics including womanist prose, womanist theology, womanist literary critique, and more.

 Take a look below and let us know which texts have guided to you womanism.

1. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

In this, her first collection of nonfiction, Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Among the contents are essays about other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid memoir of a scarring childhood injury and her daughter’s healing words.

2. Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves by Clenora Hudson-Weems

Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves poses new challenges for the feminist movement. In fact, in the words of Delores P. Aldridge it is "unquestionably a pioneering effort whose time has come. It provides an exciting & fresh approach to understanding the tensions existing among the mainstream feminist, the Black feminist, the African feminist & the Africana womanist." Hudson-Weems examines the perceptions women in the African diaspora have of their historical & contemporary roles. It is within this comparative framework that the work advances the state of knowledge on the lives of women in color. Since the initial appeal of feminism was & continues to be largely for educated, middle-class white women & not black working class women, the onus of responsibility for the destiny of the Africana woman rests on her. The growing need to be self-named & self-defined, the desire for reclamation of her historical past, the search for a stronger sense of belongingness & the greater call for cultural rootedness provide the rationale & justify the urgency for a new direction. Africana Womanism is timely, theoretically fitting & intrinsically advantageous to the Africana woman. In the triple marginality of black women, race rises above class & gender.

3. Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society by Stacey Floyd-Thomas

Womanist approaches to the study of religion and society have contributed much to our understanding of Black religious life, activism, and women's liberation. Deeper Shades of Purple explores the achievements of this movement over the past two decades and evaluates some of the leading voices and different perspectives within this burgeoning field. Deeper Shades of Purple brings together a who's who of scholars in the study of Black women and religion who view their scholarship through a womanist critical lens. The contributors revisit Alice Walker's definition of womanism for its viability for the approaches to discourses in religion of Black women scholars. Whereas Walker has defined what it means to be womanist, these contributors define what it means to practice womanism, and illuminate how womanism has been used as a vantage point for the theoretical orientations and methodological approaches of Black women scholar-activists.


4. The Womanist Idea by Layli Maparyan
Following on the heels of The Womanist Reader, The Womanist Idea offers a comprehensive, systematic analysis of womanism, including a detailed discussion of the womanist worldview (cosmology, ontology, epistemology, logic, axiology, and methodology) and its implications for activism. From a womanist perspective, social and ecological change is necessarily undergirded by spirituality – as distinct from religion per se – which invokes a metaphysically informed approach to activism.

5. "What's in a Name? Womanism, Black Feminism, and Beyond" by Patricia Hill Collins


Noted black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins seeks to define and specify the terms in which black women can define their unique experiences and scholarly. In the scholarly community there is great debate on which terms are all encompassing to the African-American female experience. Is it womanism (as defined by Alice Walker), black feminism, or simply part of the greater feminist experience? As Collins notes, most African-American women see no great different between the two terms as both terms are concerned with the intersection of racism and sexism (10). Collins explores both terms and the theoretical implications (both negative and positive) of their use to define the viewpoint of black women.


6. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams

Drawing on the biblical figure of Hagar mother of Ishmael, cast into the desert by Abraham and Sarah, but protected by God Williams finds a proptype for the struggle of African-American women. African slave, homeless exile, surrogate mother, Hagar s story provides an image of survival and defiance appropriate to black women today. Exploring the themes implicit in Hagar s story poverty and slavery, ethnicity and sexual exploitation, exile and encounter with God Williams traces parallels in the history of African-American women from slavery to the present day. A new womanist theology emerges from this shared experience, from the interplay of oppressions on account of race, sex and class. Sisters in the Wilderness offers a telling critique of theologies that promote liberation but ignore women of color. This is a book that defined a new theological project and charted a path that others continue to explore.


7. "Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel in English" by Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi

"What does a black woman novelist go through as she comes in contact with a white feminist writing and realizes Shakespeare's illustrious sisters belong to the second sex, a situation that has turned them into impotent eunuchs without rooms of their own in which to read and write their very own literature, so that they have become madwomen, now emerging from the attic, determined to fight for their rights by engaging in the acrimonious politics of sex?"


8. Womanist & Feminist Aesthetics: A Comparative Review by Tuzyline Jita Allan

Alice Walker's womanist theory about black feminist identity and practice also contains a critique of white liberal feminism. This is the first in-depth study to examine issues of identity and difference within feminism by drawing on Walker's notion of an essential black feminist consciousness. Allan defines womanism as a "(r)evolutionary aesthetic that seeks to fully realize the feminist goal of resistance to patriarchal domination, " demonstrated most powerfully in The Color Purple. She also recognizes the complexities and ambiguities embedded in the concept, particularly the notion of a fixed and unitary black feminist identity, separate and distinct from its white counterpart. Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Drabble's The Middle Ground, she argues, do not allay Walker's concerns about white liberal feminist practice, but they reveal signs of struggle that complicate the womanist/feminist dichotomy. Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood, an ostensibly womanist text, fails to fit the race-restrictive womanist paradigm, and Walker's own aesthetic trajectory - before The Color Purple - places her outside womanist boundaries. Finally, Allan's intertextual reading reveals significant commonalities and differences. In the current debate among competing feminisms, this critical appraisal of womanist theory underscores the need for new thinking about essentialism, identity, and difference, and also for creative cooperation in the struggle against domination.


9. A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering by Emilie Townes

In A Troubling in My Soul, well-known womanist theologians explore the persistent question of evil and suffering in compelling new ways. Committed to an integrated analysis of race, gender, and class, they also address the shortcomings of traditional, feminist, and Black theologies in dealing with evil. Taking Alice Walker's definition of "womanist" as a framework, in Part I, "Responsible, in Charge", Clarice J. Martin explores "If God exists, why is there evil?"; Frances E. Wood shows how Christianity's idealization of suffering has harmed African-American women; and Jamie T. Phelps recounts the historic exclusion of African-American women - and men - in the Roman Catholic church. Part II, "It Wouldn't Be the First Time", includes Marcia Y. Riggs on the 19th century Black club women's response to moral evil; Emilie M. Townes on a womanist ethic based on the example of Ida B. Wells-Barrett; and Rosita deAnn Mathews on the role of chaplain-clergyperson as priest, prophet, and employee. Part III, "Love's the Spirit", includes M. Shawn Copeland on the narratives of enslaved and/or emancipated women of African descent; Delores S. Williams on sin and suffering in Black Christian theology; Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan on the spirituals as an Afrocentric Christian response to evil; and Karen Baker-Fletcher on the life of Dr. Anna Julia Cooper and the vitality of voice in womanist experience. In Part IV, "As Purple Is to Lavender", Patricia L. Hunter exposes the cosmetics industry's impact on Black women's self-understanding as creations of God. 
10. Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community by Katie Geneva Cannon

In 13 essays and an appendix, Cannon charts the process of her canon formation, based on an inclusive ethic. She says that in each essay she is "conducting a three-pronged systemic analysis of race, sex and class from the perspective of African American women in the academy of religion." Her development begins with an historical detailing of what forged the black feminist consciousness. Cannon reveals how black women have found themselves to be moral agents in an African American tradition that combines both the "real-lived" texture of African American life and the oral-aural cultural tradition vital to African Americans. Cannon, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary and the first to be ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the United Presbyterian Church USA, a womanist philosopher and a theologian, deals mainly with canonical issues and "canon formation" as she calls for an inclusive rather than an exclusive frame of reference for governing life choices. Katie's Canon is both provocative and enlightening.


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