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Academic Lectures & Creative Writing Readings

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Taft Lecture. African Studes: Dr. Kwakiutl L. Dreher "Piercing the 4th Wall: Getting Close With My Celebrity Sistahs"

In this talk Professor Dreher (University of Nebraska – Lincoln) will speak on her personal and community responses to performances and autobiographical writings by Black women celebrities including Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, and others.

Lecture Date: April 7, 2010

Dr.Dreher highlights how the autobiographical "I" of the black woman celebrity connects with the collective black literary community by narrating her journey of harrowing familial persecution and communal expulsion, mean poverty, embarrassing insecurity, betrayal, and the threat of violence in conjunction with racism and sexism. Her work maintains that the black celebrity autobiographical narrative coexists on the continuum of black written expression as it has been practiced throughout history by black women. The discussion of Mary Wilson's autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme (Motown's stellar girl group The Supremes), for example, can stand with Toni Morrison'sSula, Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Gloria Naylor's Women of Brewster Place. Wilson examines the dynamics of friendship between young women in the entertainment industry, specifically Motown, just as Morrison and Walker do via their stories about Nel and Sula and Shug Avery, Celie, and Sophia respectively in their own communities. The late Eartha Kitt joins Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God)as well in her critique of intra-racial dynamics in the black family and community. An examination of Kitt's autobiographies brings to relief the practice of verbal, sexual, and physical abuse within the black community, just as Morrison does in The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Paradise.

By talking about themselves in the literary realm, black female celebrities dance with other black women who, throughout history, have used literature, in particular the genre of autobiography, to choreograph themselves on the stage of U.S. history. Overall, these autobiographies joins the life-writing as expressed by black women such as Zora Neale Hurston,
Dust Tracks on a Road and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

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The rest of the talk is available in our YouTube channel at

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