Harris, Trudier 1948-
HARRIS, Trudier 1948-
PERSONAL: Born February 27, 1948, in Mantua, AL; daughter of Terrell and Unareed (Burton) Harris. Education: Stillman College, A.B., 1969; Ohio State University, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1973.
CAREER: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, assistant professor of English, 1973-79; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, associate professor, 1979-85, professor of English, 1985-88, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English, 1988—, chairman of Curriculum in African and Afro-American Studies, 1990-92. University of Arkansas, Little Rock, William Grant Cooper Visiting Distinguished Professor, 1987; Ohio State University, visiting distinguished professor, 1988.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, College Language Association (vice president, 1980-81), American Folklore Society, Association of African and African American Folklorists, Langston Hughes Society, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, Southeastern Women's Studies Association, Zeta Phi Beta.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1977-78, 1988-89; Bunting Institute grant, 1981-82; Ford Foundation/National Research Council grant, 1982-83; Creative Scholarship Award, College Language Association, 1987; teaching award, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, 1987; Roscoe B. Tanner Teaching Award, 1988; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences grant, 1989-90; University of North Carolina grant, 1990; Rockefeller Fellowship, Bellagio, Italy, 1994; National Humanities Center Fellowship, 1996-97.
From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature, Temple University Press (Philadelphia (PA), 1982.
(Coeditor) Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1984.
Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1985.
(Coeditor) Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
(Coeditor) Afro-American Poets after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
(Editor) Afro-American Writers before the Harlem Renaissance, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
(Editor) Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
(Editor) Afro-American Writers from 1940 to 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1991.
(Coeditor) The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor, with others) The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature, Palgrave (New York, NY), 2001.
(Coeditor) The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2002.
Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor to books, including Black American Literature and Humanism, edited by R. Baxter Miller, University Press of Kentucky, 1981; The History of Southern Literature, edited by Louis Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, and others, Louisiana State University Press, 1985; Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay, G. K. Hall, 1988; and Women's Friendships, edited by Susan Koppelman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Contributor to periodicals, including Black American Literature Forum, MELUS, Southern Humanities Review, CLA Journal, Journal of Popular Culture, and Callaloo.
SIDELIGHTS: A prominent scholar, critic, editor, and specialist in African-American literature and folklore, Trudier Harris is a professor of literature at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and author of numerous critical studies. In From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature Harris explores the depictions of black household workers in black fiction. She discusses twenty-four works, including Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Richard Wright's story "Man of All Work." Reviewer Fran R. Schumer noted in the New York Times Book Review that "this book sheds light on a subject that has gotten far less attention than it deserves."
Harris has been credited for helping to establish the canon for African-American literature, and her writings on some of the best known authors in that tradition have been central in that endeavor. Her 1985 title Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin was commended by Nellie McKay in a Signs review: "Harris breaks new ground with this book," McKay noted. Serving as editor, Harris has also shepherded numerous volumes on African-American writers, dramatists, and poets, including The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. In that work, Harris and her coeditors dealt with the major divisions of literature but also added some "unexpected cultural issues," as G. T. Johnson noted in Choice. Including topics such as sexuality and gender into the mix, Harris created an "exciting work," according to Johnson. Reviewing the same title in Melus, Daniel M. Scott, III, felt the volume was "carefully edited and meticulously cross-listed" and further noted that it "gracefully depicts a considerable cultural, political, and aesthetic load."
Harris once commented: "My writing continues to be motivated by a sense of commitment to treat topics in African-American literature and folklore that have not previously inspired extensive scholarly exploration. For example, one of my on-going projects is a study of the 'mourners bench' (a religious rite of passage) in African-American folk, popular, and literary traditions. While that phenomenon is certainly a known one in the culture, it is not one of those subjects that lends itself readily to scholarly treatment. I hope to show that it is indeed a rich realm of endeavor. I have similar aspirations for my biography of Jackie 'Moms' Mabley (Loretta Mary Aiken), who is recognized by many comedians as having had substantial influence upon their careers and performances, but who has not yet been accorded a significant place in American humor. Since the numbers of African-American scholars, women in particular, are not increasing substantially, I am convinced that those of us who can produce works that shed light on less-studied phenomena in the culture should be about the business of doing so."
In Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, Harris narrows her approach to the study of the Nobel Prize-winning author. Reviewing that study in Choice, Q. Grigg praised Harris for being able "to establish innovative uses of discourses in Morrison's novels," and also noted that she is "knowledgeable about both Morrison and African-American cultural materials." Theresa M. Towner, writing in the Mississippi Quarterly, observed that Harris "manages to avoid the temptation to lionize Morrison." Tower, however, also felt that Harris "often overlooks the sexual complexity of Morrison's work."
Three further authors come under Harris's critical lens in The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan. Developed from a series of lectures given at Mercier College in 1995, "the book is about the power of oral tradition and tracks its legacy in three works that Harris defines—by style and subject matter—as examples of 'Southern literature,'" according to Priscilla Wald, writing in American Literature. The three works under examination are Mules and Men by Hurston, Mama's Day by Naylor, and the story "Clarence and the Dead" from Kenan's Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. Harris demonstrates in her study how the folk culture of African Americans contributed to all three of these works, and indeed to the "unique lyricism" of southern literature in general, as Wald pointed out in her review. Similarly, Julia Willis, writing in Lambda Book Report, noted that "what's really interesting is that in tracing how African-American writers have returned to the South as subject, Harris reveals the way they've also reclaimed its powerful mix of oral tradition and magic, of sly trickster and mighty shaman, of ordinary and other-worldly." Margaret D. Bauer, reviewing the title in SouthernCultures, noted that while Hurston has been often written about, neither Naylor or Kenan have received much critical attention. "Readers of Naylor and Kenan will therefore be pleased to see these works receiving Harris's scrutiny," Bauer wrote.
Harris analyzes the role of female characters in Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature, a "surprising, scholarly volume," according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Examining writers from Morrison to Ernest J. Gaines, Harris finds that the strong female characters in their books often tend to stifle the creation of any other female type. Thus, black females are often portrayed as saint, sinner, or savior to the exclusion of all other traits or tropes. Lisa M. Anderson, writing in Modern Fiction Studies, felt that "the critique offered by Harris in this work will challenge the ways in which we think about works that we consider classic African-American texts, and the characterizations and representations of black women. They may also encourage an expanding, reformulating, or redevelopment of black women in future literature."
With Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South, Harris turns her hand to memoir, recounting her youth growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Herb Boyd, writing in Black Issues Book Review, thought that Harris "thoughtfully weaves patches of personal history with discourses on topics so fundamental to her growth as a young woman coming of age." She relates experiences such as chopping cotton, slaughtering and gutting a hog, and baiting a fishing hook, as well as her reactions to the segregated South of her day. Boyd further noted that the reader "will be constantly amused by Harris's descriptive language, her way of drawing you into a scene." Reviewing Summer Snow in O, the Oprah Magazine, Paul Schneider commented that Harris's "prickly willingness to take on all comers will surely make you pause and reflect not only on her assumptions about life but on your own." And Janet Faller Sassi concluded in Library Journal: "Alternating between memoir and cultural critique, the book tackles existing stereotypes and gives birth to a few of its own."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Notable Black American Women, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
American Literature, March, 1998, Priscilla Wald, review of The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan, pp. 202-203.
Black Issues Book Review, July-August, 2003, review of Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South, p. 58.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Summer Snow, p. 1374.
Choice, September, 1992, Q. Grigg, review of Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison; October, 2003, J. A. Zoller, review of Summer Snow.
College Literature, winter, 2003, Terry Rowden, review of Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature, pp. 182-184.
Lambda Book Report, February, 1997, Julia Willis, review of The Power of the Porch, p. 9.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Janet Faller Sassi, review of Summer Snow, p. 117.
Melus, spring, 2001, Daniel M. Scott, III, review of The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, p. 249.
Mississippi Quarterly, fall, 1993, Theresa M. Towner, review of Fiction and Folklore, pp. 601-605.
Modern Fiction Studies, fall, 2002, Lisa M. Anderson, review of Saints, Sinners, Saviors, p. 757-759.
New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1983, Fran R. Schumer, review of From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature.
O, the Oprah Magazine, May, 2003, Paul Schneider, review of Summer Snow, p. 190.
Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2001, review of Saints, Sinners, Saviors, p. 58.
Signs, winter, 1988, Nellie McKay, review of Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin, p. 344.
Southern Cultures, summer, 1998, Margaret D. Bauer, review of The Power of the Porch, pp. 68-70.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), May 4, 2003, Siona LaFrance, review of Summer Snow, p. 7.
Women's Studies, July-August, 2002, Dana Dudley, review of Saints, Sinners, Saviors, pp. 544-545.
Endeavors Magazine Online,http://research.unc.edu/endeavors/win2003/harris-lopez.html/ (winter, 2003), Angela Spivey, "Reach Beyond the Strong."
University of Georgia Press Web site, http://www.ugapress.uga.edu/books/ (February 9, 2004).
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Web site,http://english.unc.edu/faculty/harrist.html/ (February 9, 2004), "Trudier Harris."*