Speculative Black Maternity: Fran Ross’s Oreo and Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo

Angela Rovak, University of Oregon
Vol. 38, No. 2 (Fall 2019), 381-405

This essay examines the role of artificial insemination by frozen sperm and the role of the commercial sperm bank in two black feminist novels, Fran Ross’s Oreo (1974) and Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (1982), through an analysis of their engagement with speculative structures such as dream sequences. Oreo and Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo were published in a social and political moment characterized by the antiracist activism of black power and black nationalism and by the gender activism of women’s liberation. Ross and Shange outline a black feminist theory of reproductive science cognizant of the history of black women’s reproductive exploitation, directly responding to the social movements of the 1970s that elided the specific concerns of black women. The novels demonstrate how the not-so-distant past of American slavery and the imagined near future of technologically liberated reproduction collide in the present. This essay reveals the theories of reproductive justice embedded in these novels and contextualizes their critiques within the contemporary fertility market.

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]