Title page for ETD etd-0414102-144220

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Haynes, Laura Sams
URN etd-0414102-144220
Title Christio-Conjure in Voodoo Dreams, Baby of the Family, the Salt Eaters, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, and Mama Day
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Angeletta Gourdine Committee Chair
James Olney Committee Member
John Lowe Committee Member
Robin Roberts Committee Member
Nat Wing Dean's Representative
  • black women's literature
  • black women's writing
  • christio-conjure
  • black religion
Date of Defense 2002-03-01
Availability unrestricted
This project examines contemporary African American women’s literature and the legacy established by literary foremother, Zora Neale Hurston. The discussion is positioned at the cross-section of three on-going conversations: 1) current discourses on Conjure in African American women’s literature, 2) analyses of Africanisms in black culture, and 3) previous scholarship on recurring topics in African American women’s writing. Here these frames are unified under one thematic: Christio-Conjure—a rubric borne of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that designates the fusing of Christian and West African religious tradition in African American culture. Thus, this project establishes a new literary matrix for analyzing twentieth-century black women’s writing.

Each chapter features a novel viewed through the critical lens of Christio-Conjure. Zora Neale Hurston’s and Luisah Teish’s research offers a framework for the elements of Christio-Conjure integrated throughout the novels. Chapter two, “Christio-Conjure as Historical Fiction,” analyzes Jewel Parker Rhodes’s Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau (1993), a work that provides a compelling image of the black woman as a Christio-Conjure priestess. Chapter three, “Christio-Conjure and the Ghost Story,” examines how Tina McElroy Ansa’s Baby of the Family (1988) incorporates the Christio-Conjure tenet of matrilineage with the cultural transmission of mother wit as African American folk wisdom. Chapter four, “Revolutionary Christio-Conjure,” addresses the revolutionary aspects of Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters (1980), highlighting African American communal transformation and afrofemcentric female bonding. Chapter five, “Christio-Conjure Activism,” examines Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982) with the title characters as proverbial soul sistahs who employ Christio-Conjure in self-actualization and communal healing. Chapter six, “Christio-Conjure Romance and Magic,” discusses the love story of Cocoa and George against the backdrop of Gloria Naylor’s revision of the holy trinity in Mama Day (1989). As liberation tales, these novels depict characters that appropriate Christio-Conjure as a source of empowerment. In addition, the authors themselves employ Christio-Conjure in their writing as a reaffirmation of their cultural and literary heritage. As a focal point, then, Christio-Conjure functions as a centering mechanism in contemporary twentieth-century black women’s writing, a body of literature historically marginalized.

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