Self-Writing and James Baldwin: A reexamination of black autobiography

Summer 2018

Samara Michaelson : Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Donor: Anselm A&H Fund
Mentor: Michael Mascuch

My work will focus on the autobiographical tendencies of James Baldwin’s texts as they engage with the sociopolitical and philosophical problems inherent to black autobiography's genesis—slavery—with the larger task of reexamining understandings of autobiography as a genre. The research will explore the history of African American literature in order to find how questions originating from the slave narrative are reformulated, and how the slave narrative’s resilient strain has injected itself into the nature of black literature so as to make autobiographical practice a fundamental method of communication. This will predictably produce questions of authorship, intention and social validation. To leverage these formulations in my reading of Baldwin, I will be studying literary theory, particularly of the structuralist and post-structuralist schools, as these writers are concerned with the philosophical freedoms that writing, considered generally, and self-writing particularly, afford a writer. As a foundation to these theories, the sociological assertion that identity is not only shaped by language but created through it will inform my inquiry. 

I want to say thank you to the Anselm Fund for providing me with the opportunity to complete my own research -- an opportunity I've never had before and one that has given me both more confidence (through experience) and more understanding as to what humanities research means. To be endowed with the feeling that my own thinking or way of thinking is valuable outside of my own brain has made me excited for the future but has also pushed me to create something of value. What does that mean? I think it means connecting. It means creating something that connects, which starts with my own passion and the alleviation of the anxiety that comes with it but ends with making this passion understandable without dilution. The Anselm Fund has helped me to start connecting in a valuable way. Thank you!