Secondary Agency: Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, and the Making of Those Bones Are Not My Child

Allison Fagan, James Madison University
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Spring 2023), 135-156

This article examines the writing and publication of Toni Cade Bambara’s posthumously published novel Those Bones Are Not My Child using the philosophical concept of secondary agency to attend to the careful and compassionate process by which Black women set out to tell the stories of trauma and survival on behalf of others who cannot— or will not—speak. It reads the fictional character Zala Spencer and her attempts to locate and tell the story of her son, who was kidnapped during the Atlanta Child Murders, alongside Bambara’s own attempts to tell the story of those murders and in the context of Toni Morrison’s role in posthumously publishing this novel. In particular, it traces the efforts of these three women who aim to tell a story without appropriating it and who are mindful of both the peril and power of silence. Drawing on Black feminist scholarship and the archival and material evidence of Bambara’s work, it suggests that a reading of the novel’s narrative, the various drafts of its prologue, and its materiality offer a portrait of the complicated intimacy at the heart of secondary agency.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]