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Worrying the Line

For blues musicians, ""worrying the line"" is the technique of breaking up a phrase by changing pitch, adding a shout, or repeating words in order to emphasize, clarify, or subvert a moment in a song. Cheryl A. Wall applies this term to fiction and nonfiction writing by African American women in the twentieth century, demonstrating how these writers bring about similar changes in African American and American literary traditions. Examining the works of Lucille Clifton, Gayl Jones, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, and Alice Walker, Wall highlights ways in which these authors construct family genealogies, filling in the gaps with dreams, rituals, music, or images that forge a connection to family lost through slavery. For the black woman author, Wall contends, this method of revising and extending canonical forms provides the opportunity to comment on the literary past while also calling attention to the lingering historical effects of slavery. For the reader, Wall shows, the images and words combine to create a new kind of text that extends meanings of the line, both as lineage and as literary tradition.
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About the Author

Cheryl A. Wall is professor of English at Rutgers University and author of Women of the Harlem Renaissance. She has edited five books, including Changing Our Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women and, most recently, a critical casebook on Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.


"Artfully examines the literary genealogy of a prominent and influential group. . . . Offers keen insights into these writers' formal and thematic uses of other less literary sources. . . . Impressive." -- "Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature" "A valuable resource in the effort to define a critical epistemology of literary matrilineage in African American literature." -- "African American Review" "Takes its place alongside other powerful essay collections on the subject. . . . Conveys in intelligent and potentially quite rich ways the process at work in summoning memories, eliciting stories, and recasting them for new contexts." -- "Feminist Teacher"

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