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Status Report: “Notes from a Colored Girl: The Pocket Diaries of Emilie Davis 1863-1865”

October 30, 2012

This book is currently in the pipeline at the University of South Carolina press and is scheduled to be released in August 2013.

Synopsis: This manuscript analyzes the 1863-1865 pocket diaries of Emlie Davis, a nineteenth-century freeborn black woman, as a “port of entry” through which I examine Emlie’s place within the free black community, her worldviews and her politics, her perceptions of both public and private events, and her personal relationships. Her daily entries are used as a starting point to investigate, explore, and reconstruct a narrative of her life. Emlie’s pocket diaries provide a skeleton blueprint of her life that outlines her mobile subjectivity, particularly in relation to the people, incidents, and ideologies that shaped and formed her identity. An analysis of Emlie’s story provides a dialectic between the lives of mulattoes and black, activism and grassroots work, and fluency and literacy.

Although Emlie’s entries are sparse, brief snapshots of her life, she has given us a tool to analyze the background and history of her worldview in the larger context of nineteenth-century black American life. Through an analytical lens, we are able to situate Emilie in a historical and literary context. An analysis of Emlie’s diary entries also adds to the study of nineteenth-century black American women’s experiences by filling a void in scholarly documentation of women who dwell in spaces between those who were considered elite and those who were enslaved.

Drawing upon the scholarly traditions from history, literature, Africana studies, and sociolinguistics, I investigate Emlie’s diary both as a whole and in terms of her specific daily entries. From a historical perspective, the narrative of Emlie’s life for these three years is recreated and the free black community where she lived and worked is analyzed.  From a literary perspective, Emlie’s diary is examined as a socially, racially and gendered non-fiction text. From an Africana studies perspective, Emlie’s agency and identity are examined, grounded in theory from the canonical works of black feminist scholars. And from a linguistics perspective, Emlie’s discourse about her interpersonal relationships, her work, and external events in her life are analyzed in an effort to understand how she used language to construct her social, racial and gendered identities. With this interdisciplinary analytic framework, I more fully consider Emlie’s life as a working-class free black American woman, using her specific racial and social experiences, as recorded in her own words to provide a richer and more detailed portrait of her life.

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