Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Susan Marren

Committee Member

Lisa Hinrichsen

Second Committee Member

Constance Bailey


African American Literature, Black Feminism, Womanism, Zora Neale Hurston


This work examines representations of maternal relationships between black women in five contemporary novels: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Sula by Toni Morrison, The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Louisiana by Erna Brodber. Rather than situating the origins of black feminist literary studies during the Black Women’s Literary Renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s, I argue that Hurston’s work shapes contemporary black feminist literary studies. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nanny provides a mothering archetype that inspires a dominant theme and practice—the black maternal, within contemporary black women’s fiction, specifically the Black Women’s Literary Renaissance of the 1970s and 80s—an era greatly inspired by second-wave Black feminism. Contemporary black women writers use the black maternal to demonstrate how mothering relationships culturally heal communities of the socially constructed diseases of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism. To this end, my research draws upon Patricia Hill Collins’ critical social theory of othermothering, which argues the centrality of non-kin and extended family maternal relationships between black women as integral to their personal agency as well as the sociopolitical progression of their communities. Additionally, my analyses of the novels included in this study reveal six themes in contemporary black women’s fiction: self-love, resistance, community, afrocentrist folk sensibility, power of the ancestral and spirituality. These themes function alongside the black maternal in shaping black feminist literary studies.