Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Sharon Lewis

Committee Member

Lawrence Schwartz

Committee Member

Naomi Liebler


This paper contributes to the conversation of race/publishing by concentrating on black women’s literature, exploring how it has been produced over the course of the last one hundred years and the impact of the white/black divide which has created a power structure where white publishers are able to assert control over black women’s writing. The focus is on three commercially successful female African American writers— Nella Larsen, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove. All three women were published by mainstream New York publishing houses made up of primarily white editors and publishers.

The research in this paper is informed by editorial theory and the work of John K. Young. Editorial theory emphasizes the importance of looking at the historical circumstances of textual production by examining the material documents and the texts in order to identify points of conflict. This includes an analysis of the various elements of a text, including book jacket, title, dedication page, earlier drafts, and advertisements. Many of these elements bear the markers of other parties including, but not limited to the editor, copy editor, publisher, marketers, salespeople, and reviewers. Because these individuals have historically been white, their choices and impact on the work of black women writers is seen as being particularly important.

This paper concludes that by reading author/publislier interactions against the backdrop of the cultural movements of the time we are able to witness shifting balances of power. While this does not mean we have come to a moment when the work of black women writers can be produced in a space that is not marked by her race or gender broader shifts in the culture have begun to change the rigid racial stratifications that surround the work allowing more and more black women writers to achieve both critical and commercial success with mainstream book publishers.

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