Peterson, Nancy J. 1958-

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PETERSON, Nancy J. 1958-

PERSONAL: Born March 4, 1958 in Minneapolis, MN. Education: University of Wisconsin—Madison, B.A., 1980, Ph.D., 1991; University of North Texas, M.A., 1985.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of English, Purdue University, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2038. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and writer. Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, associate professor of English. Modern Fiction Studies, associate editor.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association, American Studies Association.


(Editor) Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1997.

Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crises of Historical Memory, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.

Contributor to The Chippewa Landscape of Louise Erdrich, edited by Allan Chavkin, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1994; and Productive Post-modernism: Consuming Histories and Cultural Studies, edited by John N. Duvall, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: With Against Amnesia: Contemporary Writers and the Crisis of Historical Memory, author and professor of English Nancy J. Peterson combines feminist, postmodern, and historical analysis to create "a careful study of the uses of history in works of literature by a number of contemporary U.S. women writers," wrote Lois Parkinson Zamora in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. In a detailed assessment of the fiction of Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Joy Kogawa and the poetry of Irene Klepfisz, Peterson "engages photography, film, monuments, museums, and music," Zamora remarked. "The author narrows this vast field by focusing on marginalized women writers who write about communities with 'wounded histories' or histories that have been lost, silenced, contaminated, or exterminated."

The works of Erdrich, Morrison, Kogawa, and Klepfisz create "necessary counternarratives to the elisions of official and popular memory," wrote M. L. Robertson in Choice. Their work also "enact[s] a complex negotiation with the basic tenets of poststructuralist thought." In the book, "Each chapter contemplates different narrative modes of imagining the unimaginable, of narrating the unspeakable, of remembering histories that the writer may not know but cannot forget," Zamora wrote. Without accurate historical referentiality, there exists great difficulty in creating stories that conflict with cultural amnesia in the remembering, and even acknowledging, of the "traumatic historical experiences of marginalized racial or ethnic groups," Robertson wrote. It is only through works such as those analyzed by Peterson, contradictory works that combine "epic intention and documentary detail with fragments, gaps, and silences." that culturally traumatic historical events such as the Holocaust or slavery can be represented adequately in literature, Robertson observed. In her analysis, Zamora wrote, Peterson "weighs postmodern skepticism about the representation of historical truth against urgent ethical claims to remember the horrors of genocide, slavery, internment." The result, Robertson remarked, is "Conceptually sophisticated and nicely developed."

Peterson focuses further on Morrison in Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Edited by Peterson, eleven scholars provide analysis of Morrison's works in terms of black feminist criticism in the 1990s. "This collection of essays," wrote Vanessa Holford Diana in MELUS, "does what editor Nancy J. Peterson promises: 'situate[s] Morrison's work within the age of contemporary theory, locating her novels and essays in relation to various theories of the post-that have come to proliferate at the end of the twentieth century in America, and [takes] the process of reading Morrison's works seriously, closely examining the dynamic effects of her language, her rhetorical and narrative choices,'" Among the pieces presented in the book are an introduction to and a history of Morrison Scholarship; four essays providing detailed comparative analysis between Morrison's fiction and that of several white authors; and Morrison's own Nobel Prize lecture, "thereby giving Morrison the last word on her work and reaffirming her belief in the power of language," as Diana wrote.

Other essays in the book "directly answer Morrison's call for a criticism 'rooted in black culture,'" Diana remarked. Among these essays, the critic wrote, are examinations of "the inadequacies of traditional deconstruction and post-modernism to understand Morrison's unique treatment of absence specific to African American Historical experience": the use of Yoruba religion as a means for considering narrative structure; and the application of a jazz musical aesthetic in interpreting Morrison's novel, Jazz.

Richard Hardack, writing in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, noted that Toni Morrison "contains some illuminating moments, but is ultimately frustratingly inconsistent." There is no framework for cross-referencing the book's contents, Hardack remarked, Among other criticisms was his comment that "the volume is often repetitive and offers little to hold it together beyond the general promise of close readings. At best, the book consolidates existing work rather than breaking new ground."

However, Diana observed, "Peterson does not set out to present a balanced set of essays on all of Morrison's work; instead, she compiles a range of readings to suggest ways that contemporary criticism can open up interpretive possibilities as we engage Morrison's fiction and prose. The organizational structure of the collection helps achieve this goal quite effectively." Perhaps more importantly, "The essayists in this collection have, as Peterson explains, taken the act of reading Morrison seriously," Diana stated. "And well they should, for as Morrison reminds us, 'We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.'"



American Literature, December, 1998, review of ToniMorrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, p. 929.

Biography, Fall, 2002, Mark Freeman, review of Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crises of Historical Memory, pp. 701-707.

Choice, October, 2001, M. L. Robertson, review of Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crisis of Historical Memory, p. 311.

MELUS, summer, 2001, Vanessa Holford Diana, review of Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, p. 249.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 1998, review of Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, p. 174.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, fall, 1998, review of Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, pp. 368-370; fall, 2001, review of Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crisis of Historical Memory, pp. 309-311.


Nancy J. Peterson Web page, edu/~njp/ (May 2, 2003).

University of Pennsylvania Press Web site, http://www. (May 8, 2002).

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Peterson, Nancy J. 1958-

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