Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Gary Lemons


African American rhetorics, Spirituality, Womanist thought, Women of color


Throughout history African–American women have struggled against oppressions that have stereotyped their identities, scrutinized their character, and ultimately labeled their bodies inferior and inhuman. Despite the debilitating ideologies and barriers African–American women have been forced to operate within, they have fought against these racist, sexist, classist, homophobic environments, crafting their own “new” ethos through writing, as well as entertainment and popular culture. Although Black women remain plagued by history, the New Age of the 1980s as discussed by Akasha Gloria Hull in Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African–American Women seemed to spark a new spirituality amongst African–American women. During this time, they acquired new spiritual practices and beliefs (meditation, chanting, Tarot readings, and following of Eastern religions and medicine), and deeper spiritual connections with their pasts (including their ancestors). These new forms of enlightenment quickly became a major part of many Black women’s public and private identities. Hull notices that these new “spiritually-inspired”practices simultaneously became integrated into African–American women writer's, such as Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Susan L. Taylor and more, literature produced in the late 1970s and 1980s, resulting in a surge of three-dimensional writing that Hull says is political, creative, and spiritual.

Drawing from Hull’s findings, I respond to a need within African–American rhetoric(s) for more research on the use of nommo (the word) and magara (the spirit) as rhetorical figures within African–American discourse. Although nommo is commonly recognized as an essential part of African–American discourse, magara (the spiritual force within the word) has been less discussed as a rhetorical device. I believe that this has to do with the controversial nature of spirituality within our culture, especially within the academy and social politics. To recognize the importance of `the spirit' within Black women's practices, I turn to a particular way of understanding—womanist thought—which embraces the spiritualization of the everyday, as well as African philosophy, which recognizes the inherent spiritual power of language, as background sources to my claim that African–American women use spirituality as a rhetorical device within their writing. Then, using a variation of Kenneth Burke’s cluster-agon method developed by Carol A. Berthold, I analyze three 1980s womanist texts: This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Women of Color, Sister Outsider, and The Color Purple. Through this analysis, I locate a womanist of color rhetoric during the late 1970s and 1980s New Age movement.