Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student: One Thing My Research Allows Me to Do

My research allows me to study nonfiction texts like newspaper articles, scholarly journals, narratives, studies, and letters as well as contemporary fiction to establish a historical context that helps me create well rounded characters; characters who adapt and challenge their reality and to write a work that reflects the individuality of my characters’ experience. 

There is no quintessential slave story and I do not endeavor to write a narrative that pretends to capture all of the possibilities between the pages. My hope is to capture characters as they exist within the world I create which is based on fact. Slavery relied on a relationship between the slaver and the enslaved; my research shows for some slavers the need for the enslaved to act as if they were in some way appreciative and happy. My hope is through language and dialogue to capture some of the psychological aspects of slavery.

I’m interested in the stories of mothers trying to find their children and of mothers who had to give up. I’m interested in the ways characters influence plot; how some slaves endured slavery and the many ways people took control over their own narratives in their actions, in their thoughts and in their beliefs. I’m increasingly interested in the concept of trauma theory and how that relates to emancipated slaves and the effects slavery has had on future generations. I’m equally interested in continuing research that gives forgotten characters a voice. Through research I am finding that people are interested in reading, hearing the stories of emancipated slaves reconnecting with family. There are some books published through mainstream publishers that feature emancipated slaves as central characters. With this burst of historical fiction, why are there not more emancipated slave characters? Who can write emancipated slave stories? Who will read them?

Traditional publishing does not seem to have a wide enough space for stories of emancipated slaves. As they were silenced off the page, they are absent on the page as well. It is not just the emancipated slave that is missing from mainstream publishing but the work of Black authors is limited. Why don’t mainstream publishers publish a lot of Black/African American fiction? Why do American publishing houses distinguish between Black readers and readers of other races? 

What makes Black fiction Black? My research shows that in some areas of the country my work will be shelved in the African American/Black American section no matter what I write about. As a Black American woman writer, how does publishing my work in the UK differ from publishing it in the US?

Black and African American writers have been muffled throughout history; how can my work influence change? If publishing houses are manned by people who want the voices of writers of color to remain silenced, is the only hope for publishing a work they may not embrace to slip it through the cracks or to build another playground?  

My work is challenging me to re-evaluate my place in publishing; to explore where my work fits in and where I fit in on and off the page. 


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