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Identifying Emma Dunham Kelley: Rethinking Race and Authorship

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

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.

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

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