Children's Biographies of African American Women: Rhetoric, Public Memory, and Agency

Children's Biographies of African American Women: Rhetoric, Public Memory, and Agency

by Sara C Vanderhaagen


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In Children's Biographies of African American Women: Rhetoric, Public Memory, and Agency Sara C. VanderHaagen examines how these biographies encourage young readers to think about themselves as agents in a public world. Specifically VanderHaagen illustrates how these works use traditional means to serve progressive ends and thereby examines the rhetorical power of biography in shaping identity and promoting public action.

Drawing on scholarship in rhetoric, memory studies, and children's literature, VanderHaagen presents rhetorical analyses of biographies of three African American women--poet Phillis Wheatley, activist Sojourner Truth, and educator-turned-politician Shirley Chisholm--published in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. VanderHaagen begins by analyzing how biographical sketches in books for black children published during the 1920s represent Wheatley and Truth. The study then shifts to books published between 1949 and 2015. VanderHaagen uses a concept adapted from philosopher Paul Ricoeur--the idea of the "agential spiral"--to chart the ways that biographies have used rhetoric to shape the life stories of Wheatley, Truth, and Chisholm.

By bringing a critical, rhetorical perspective to the study of biographies for children, this book advances the understanding of how lives of the past are used persuasively to shape identity and encourage action in the contemporary public world. VanderHaagen contributes to the study of rhetoric and African American children's literature and refocuses the field of memory studies on children's biographies, a significant but often-overlooked genre through which public memories first take shape.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611179156
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/01/2018
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

Sara C. VanderHaagen holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and is a teacher and scholar of rhetoric and public address focusing on race, gender, and memory. She is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Chapter 1 Locating Memories and Agents in Children's Biographies 1

Chapter 2 Public Memory as a Rhetorical Hermeneutic 23

Chapter 3 "A World of Inspiration": Biographical Sketches in Early African American Children's Literature 35

Chapter 4 Prefiguration: The Agent Placed in History 58

Chapter 5 Configuration: The Agent Writing History 84

Chapter 6 Refiguration and Appropriation: The Agent Reading History 107

Chapter 7 "Sanitize and Simplify": Beyond Contemporary Cynicism 132

Notes 147

Bibliography 187

Index 201

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