Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-rkxrd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-23T01:40:23.510Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Identifying Emma Dunham Kelley: Rethinking Race and Authorship

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Though she has long been considered a pioneer of black women's writing, there is no evidence to suggest that Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins, author of Megda and Four Girls at Cottage City, was African American. This author considered herself racially white, as did every recorded member of her family before her. Instead of simply asserting her whiteness to correct the “mistake” of her racial categorization in the scholarly reception of her novels, this essay explores the uses of authorial racial identity in critical practice. Reading the obsessive concern with skin color in Four Girls at Cottage City demands not only further consideration of Kelley's work alongside African American literature but also attention to issues of white racialization at the turn of the century. However we identify Kelley, the critical history and continued interpretation of her work provide a rare opportunity to observe the consequences of destabilizing an author's identity or, more precisely, recognizing identity as unstable.

Research Article
Copyright © 2007 by The Modern Language Association of America

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Works Cited

Alden, Isabella Macdonald. Four Girls at Chautauqua. 1876. Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004.Google Scholar
Appiah, Anthony. The Ethics of Identity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Appiah, Anthony. “The Uncompleted Argument: DuBois and the Illusion of Race.” “Race,” Writing, and Difference. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 2137.Google Scholar
Bauer, Dale M.Master Thoughts.” White Scholars / African American Texts. Ed. Long, Lisa A. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005. 186–97.Google Scholar
Chirokas, Chris. Letter to the author. 3 Apr. 2005.Google Scholar
Christian, Barbara. Introduction. The Hazeley Family. By A. E. Johnson. Schomburg Lib. of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.xxvii–xxxvii.Google Scholar
Cromwell, Adelaide M. The Other Brahmins: Boston's Black Upper Class, 1750–1950. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1994.Google Scholar
duCille, Ann. The Coupling Convention: Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.Google Scholar
Eversley, Shelly. The Real Negro: The Question of Authenticity in Twentieth-Century African American Literature. Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 2004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Flynn, Katherine E.A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity: Finding Emma Dunham (née Kelley) Hawkins.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (2006): 522.Google Scholar
Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?The Foucault Reader. Ed. Rabinow, Paul. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 101–20.Google Scholar
Gates, Henry Louis Jr.Foreword: In Her Own Write.” Kelley, Four Girls vii–xxii.Google Scholar
Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Henning-Dyson, Erika. Letter to the author. 29 Mar. 2005.Google Scholar
Henning-Dyson, , Erika. Letter to the author. 16 Apr. 2005.Google Scholar
Hite, Molly. Introduction. Kelley, Megda xxvii–xxxvii.Google Scholar
Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge, 1995.Google Scholar
Jackson, Holly. “Mistaken Identity.” Boston Globe 20 Feb. 2005: D1+.Google Scholar
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.Google Scholar
Kelley, Emma Dunham. Four Girls at Cottage City. Schomburg Lib. of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.Google Scholar
Kelley, Emma Dunham. Megda. Schomburg Lib. of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.Google Scholar
Logan, Rayford W. The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877–1901. New York: Collier, 1965.Google Scholar
Mason, Theodore O. Jr.The African-American Anthology: Mapping the Territory, Taking the National Census, Building the Museum.” American Literary History 10.1 (1998): 185–98.Google Scholar
Matthews, Victoria Earle. “The Value of Race Literature.” 1895. Massachusetts Review 27.2 (1986): 169–91.Google Scholar
McDowell, Deborah E. “The Changing Same”: Black Women's Literature, Criticism, and Theory. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.Google Scholar
McDowell, Deborah E. Introduction. Kelley, Four Girls xxvii–xxxviii.Google Scholar
Mehegan, David. “Correcting a Case of Mistaken Identity.” Boston Globe 5 Mar. 2005: C1+.Google Scholar
“Nigger heaven.” Def. 6c. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.Google Scholar
Peterson, Carla L.New Negro Modernity: Worldliness and Interiority in the Novels of Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins.” Women's Experience of Modernity, 1875–1945. Ed. Peterson, , Ardis, Ann L., and Lewis, Leslie W. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. 111–29.Google Scholar
Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso, 1991.Google Scholar
Smith, Shawn Michelle. American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999.Google Scholar
Tate, Claudia. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's Text at the Turn of the Century. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.Google Scholar
Tate, Claudia. Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.Google Scholar
Whiteman, Maxwell. A Century of Fiction by American Negroes, 1853–1952: A Descriptive Bibliography. Philadelphia: Saifer, 1955.Google Scholar