Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
African American Literature
This dissertation seeks to define how place and space figure into key African American children's literature texts of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. After sketching a brief history of this genre, this project explores how African American children's literature can be imagined as an intersection between African American literature written for adults and (mainstream) children's literature written primarily for a white audience, so the creation of African American children's texts involves the construction of a crossroads between these two points. These works create their own spaces and develop specific meanings and uses for traditional literary landscapes. The spaces highlighted in this dissertation include the forest (chapter 1), the sidewalk, the street, and the crossroads (chapter 2), the open road (chapter 3), and the home (chapter 4.) Each chapter explores how these spaces are used in African American children's literature, paying attention to the ways these texts diverge from other genres' approaches (either adult African American children's literature or "white" children's literature) and noting how these novels build their own cultural geographical landscape within the discipline (as seen in the example of Sharon Draper's Stella by Starlight and Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.) The forest is noted as a paradoxical place that presents African American children with opportunties for education, privacy, and security. The sidewalk represents the urban space where racist actions are more clearly and easily acted upon. The open road is a dangerous space for young black characters, but it also allows them to flee their present situations to find freedom. The home is a sacred, complex hearth that can either be an oasis or a prison, depending on a child's familial experiences. This dissertation engages with scholars' discussions of the green topos, the roadway topos, and the sacred topos to fully examine how African American children's texts explore the effect of region, geographically-based racism, and nature on African American children's lives. This project also investigates the overarching political and cultural projects of a selected few of major authors in the field. Major authors examined include Mildred Taylor, Christopher Paul Curtis, Virginia Hamilton, Walter Dean Myers, and Jacqueline Woodson.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Smith, Rachel Leigh, "Woods, Sidewalks, Highways, and Homes: Boundaries, Intersections, and Spaces of Agency in African American Children's Literature" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1408.