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Open Access Paule Marshall and the search for the African diaspora

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Paule Marshall and the search for the African diaspora

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[First paragraph]The Fiction of Paule Marshall: Reconstructions of History, Culture, and Gender. DOROTHY HAMER DENNISTON. Knoxville: University of Tennesee Press, 1995. xxii + 187 pp. (Paper US$ 15.00)Toward Wholeness in Paule Marshall's Fiction. JOYCE PETTIS.Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995. xi + 173 pp. (Cloth US$ 29.50)Black and Female: Essays on Writings by Black Women in the Diaspora. BRITA LINDBERG-SEYERSTED. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1994. 164 pp. (Paper n.p.)Literary history has not been very kind to Paule Marshall. Even in the early 1980s when literature produced by African-American women was gaining prominence among general readers and drawing the attention of critics, Marshall was still considered to be an enigmatic literary figure, somehow important in the canon but not one of its trend setters. As Mary Helen Washington observed in an influential afterword to Brown Girl, Brownstones, although Marshall had been publishing novels and short stories since the early 1950s, and was indeed the key link between African-American writers of the 1940s and those of the 1960s, she was just being "discovered" in the 1980s. While there has always been a small group of scholars, most notably Kamau Brathwaite, who have called attention to the indispensable role Marshall has played in the shaping of the literary canon of the African Diaspora, and of her profound understanding of the issues that have affected the complex formation and survival of African-derived cultures in the New World, many critics have found it difficult to locate her within the American, African-American, and Caribbean traditions that are the sources of her imagination and the subject of her major works. Marshall has embraced all these cultures in more profound ways than her more famous contemporaries have, but she has not gotten the accolades that have gone to lesser writers like Alice Walker. It is indeed one of the greatest injustices of our time that Walker's limited understanding of the cultures and peoples of the African Diaspora has become the point of reference for North American scholars of Africa, the Caribbean, and South America while Marshall's scholastic engagement with questions of Diaspora has not drawn the same kind of interest.

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