Final Published Version
American Literary History
This essay explores the subversive presences of invented languages in African American women’s literatures in the twenty-first century. I focus my analysis on the invented languages that animate playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s In The Blood and Fucking A (2001), Toni Morrison’s novel Love (2003), and rapper Missy Elliott’s 2001 single, “Work It,” each of which engages key questions of intersectional embodiment, belonging, and desire at the turn of the twenty-first century. Examining these texts alongside contemporary feminist linguistic scholarship and African diaspora cultural criticism on the politics of language, I argue that Parks, Morrison, and Elliott develop what I term “interstitial languages”— shared, spoken idioms invented by authors and characters to contest dominant discourses about black women’s sexuality and to emphasize the complexity of black women’s subjectivity. These languages, I argue, extend an underexplored tradition of linguistic invention in black women’s literature, in which the imagining, coding, and naming of made-up languages are used to subvert discourses of sexuality, embodiment, and desire, and to make space for new forms of intimacy and erotic connection between black women.
Sullivan, Mecca Jamilah. 2017. "'Put My Thang Down, Flip It and Reverse It': Black Women's Interstitial Languages of Body and Desire." American Literary History 29.4: 704-725.