Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Review: 'Black and Female,' by Tsitsi Dangarembga

  • Updated
  • 0
"Black and Female" by Tsitsi Dangarembga.

"Black and Female" by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Graywolf Press/TNS)

NONFICTION: Slim but incisive, this collection of graceful essays explores the struggle to be Black and female in a world of toxic patriarchy.

"Black and Female" by Tsitsi Dangarembga; Graywolf Press (128 pages, $23)

———

"The first wound for all of us who are classified as 'black' is empire." So begins the first essay in Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga's trenchant new collection, "Black and Female," firmly establishing the terrain and approach of the slim but incisive volume. "I had no inkling that I was just a black body brought into the world only to be, in the avaricious eyes of empire, useful to it," she continues.

In fewer than 150 pages, Dangarembga deftly lays out the colonial history which her writing both springs from and exists in opposition to the essential difference between writing and publishing while Black and female, and how current Zimbabwean efforts to achieve gender equity in the country's institutions become polluted by postcolonial patriarchy.

It's a tall order, but Dangarembga achieves it with grace, through a clear-eyed analysis of both her familial and national pasts.

A particularly potent observation in the book is that empires derive much of their power from turning objects and beings that are actually part of a collective commons (land, people, plants, animals) into things that may be bought and sold. "It is precisely because of this that the imaginative work of black feminists is frustrated. While white feminists imagine a world patterned along the lines of white private ownership patriarchy, in which rewards are merely redistributed, black feminists imagine a new world that has not been seen before."

I was moved by Dangarembga's obvious efforts to link the struggles of Black feminist writers on the continent to those in the American diaspora, including Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou. As well as by poetic and powerful passages that linger in one's consciousness long after the last page is read:

"These are the wounds that burst open as I write. The force that propels my narrative through the damage is the hope not to be consumed, not to have my being rotted away, by the trauma. I write to raise mountains, hills, escarpments and rocky outcrops over the gouges in my history, my societies and their attendant spirits. The tears of the process water bushes and trees so that their roots may do the work of holding together that which was pulled violently apart. Through writing, I cultivate my being to bring forth forests that replenish our depleted humanity."

———

Shannon Gibney is a writer in Minneapolis and the author, most recently, of "The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be."

0 Comments
* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Paperback Picks What better time than midwinter to treat yourself to a brand-new paperback? Here are 10 good suggestions — engrossing novels, charming memoirs, important Black History Month reads — to brighten your February afternoons. "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" by Carl Bernstein (Holt Paperbacks, $19.99) Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "All the ...

Books in brief "Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone" by Benjamin Stevenson; Mariner Books (384 pages, $28.99) ——— You know the kind of mystery where the explanation comes pouring out at the end in great detail and you, the reader, gnash your teeth because there was no way on Earth you could have solved it because you didn't have all of the facts? Well, Benjamin Stevenson's narrator, ...

NONFICTION: The stories white people tell themselves, David Mura notes, prevent them from seeing American reality. "The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself" by David Mura; University of Minnesota Press (304 pages, $24.95) ——— Japanese American writer David Mura was aware of race from an early age, and it gave him a perspective on whiteness that he uses to great effect in his brilliant new book, ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

Weekend Things to Do

News Alert