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Cooking and Writing in African-American Culture: Representation, Genre, Ceremony

Warnes, Andrew (2001) Cooking and Writing in African-American Culture: Representation, Genre, Ceremony. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

Introduction Connections between cooking and writing in African-American culture were announced in the slave narratives, which frequently respond to slaveholders’ regulation of the literacy and diet of their human property by recounting episodes of secret reading and eating. These affinities are consolidated by the analogous freedoms cooking and writing opened to the first black cookbook writer Abby Fisher and the first published black poet Phillis Wheatley respectively. Nor are these affinities confined to the nineteenth century: rather, they survive due to the disproportionate occurrence of illiteracy and malnutrition among African Americans both before and after the Great Migration. Recent years have witnessed numerous scholarly investigations of illiteracy, which often identify the recollection of autodidactism as a pivotal episode on which autobiographies by African Americans turn. However, although hunger figures equally prominently within this archive, the interest in writing has contrasted with a relative silence on cooking. Chapters One to Three This thesis concentrates on three narratives: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1938), Richard Wright’s Black Boy (American Hunger) (1944), and Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby (1981). These narratives interconnect because, in order to expose hunger as preventable, they all contrast representations of malnutrition with images of food abundance. Implicitly, Their Eyes Were Watching God creates this contrast by representing an autonomous town from which want and white populations have been expelled. This joint expulsion lays blame for malnutrition less with food shortages than with white American privileges. Wright’s autobiography explicitly reiterates this position by enforcing commensurate juxtapositions between its titular condition and white neighbours’ ample food supplies. Spatial intimacy between the hungry and the sated becomes concentrated yet further in Tar Baby’s representation of a Caribbean estate owned by a white businessman but maintained by black servants. This novel, too, repeatedly attributes dietary differences between these racial groupings less to shortage than to white employers’ wish to preserve racial hierarchies. Conclusion Although these nax'ratives all thus insist that hunger is avoidable, however, their portrayals of theft, foraging and culinary innovations simultaneously dramatise moments when food is acquired from sources outside the capitalist market. Consequently, these narratives all employ writing in order to invoke cooking as another form of cultural production that, like autodidactism, destabilises racial inequality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Digitisation Studio Leeds
Date Deposited: 02 May 2012 16:26
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:24
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2319

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