Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert Reid-Pharr

Committee Members

Eric Lott

Duncan Faherty

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | American Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Race and Ethnicity | United States History


African-American, Queer, Nineteenth-Century U.S., American Literature, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality


Bricolage Propriety: The Queer Practice of Black Uplift, 1890-1905 situates the queer-of-color cultural imaginary in a relatively small nodal point: the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Through literary analysis and archival research on leading and marginal figures of Post-Reconstruction African American culture, this dissertation considers the progenitorial relationship of late-nineteenth century black uplift novels to modern-day queer theory. Bricolage Propriety builds on work about the sexual politics of early African American literature begun by women-of-color feminists of the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Hazel V. Carby, Ann duCille, and Claudia Tate. A new wave of interest has emerged in the “Post-Bellum/Pre-Harlem” era of African American literary production, but few in queer theory and African American literary study have yet made a connection between this renewed interest and turns in gender and sexuality studies since the late 1990s. Bricolage Propriety attempts to revisit this period of literary production and to update how we think about this period after the emergence of queer-of-color critique, particularly the work of José Esteban Muñoz, Roderick Ferguson, Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Tavia Nyong’o, Darieck Scott, Robert Reid-Pharr, Siobahn Somerville, and Mason Stokes. Moreover this project attempts to use its analyses of the gender and sex politics of this literary archive to question queer theory’s novelty, to put antiracism at its center, and to deemphasize the white-gay-male archive’s centrality. The argument offered in Bricolage Propriety narrativizes a usable past of black and queer cultures toward a more efficacious queer and antiracist coalition politics. By implementing race as a form of sexual transgression more fully into queer theory, the critical flexibility and political salience of queer theory can only stand to grow. Published during the emergence of the African American literary genre, the novels of Charles W. Chesnutt, Pauline E. Hopkins, and Sutton E. Griggs provide a critical model for how to think about race as a form of transgressive sexuality; further, these texts show how integral racial representation at the end of the nineteenth century is to our ideas about sexual transgression. In the manner of bricolage — art produced with whatever is at hand — these novelists worked within and outside the dominant culture of their time to theorize black sexual propriety, while challenging that same propriety through key failures and subversions of early African American literary form.

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