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Course: Global cultures 1980–now > Unit 1

Lesson 8: Revisiting histories

Romance novels and slave narratives: Kara Walker imagines herself in a book

Video by SFMOMA. Artist Kara Walker discusses her interest in popular literature, including romance novels, slave narratives, and even Thomas F. Dixon's 1905 novel The Clansman, and how all of these have influenced her work. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

I am a "Negress of Noteworthy Talent Actually, I dont think I ever said I was the Negress (laughs) The work was created by a Negress of Noteworthy Talent While I was still in Atlanta, and I was very I was involved in several sorts of investigations What I wound up doing, what what came out of this psycho moment was trying to understand myself as a book So I was working at a bookstore at the time, after, you know, graduating from college, and kinda interested in romance novels, in some loose way the covers, the designand the the idea of history, some kind of a history that, you know, its weightier And recognizing myself in that, recognizing blackness in that, and femininity and trying to construct myself as the author of my own narrative, ie slaves narrative The Negress that I refer to is Thomas Dixon Jrs Negress, Tawny Vixen, from The Clansmen, which is the novel, the romantic novel that Birth of a Nation was based on She doesnt have to have real characteristics, she simply has to have a body And that body is is, you know, dark You know, tawny, but thats kind of like swarthy And and she has an illicit seeming relationship with a senator, you know, from the you know, the a vindictive senator whos out to to get the south In the novel, she is this sort of side character, a tertiary character, who is clearly understood by the readers and by the the author to be a bad influence on the direction of the country, potentially And I think one of the quotes in the body of the book is something like, you know, Would this woman be the arbiter of our social mores? And, you know, its kind of speculating on this unseemly body in the in the height of power