The Black Woman as Artist: The Queer Erotics of Rita Dove’s Beulah

Kevin Quashie, Brown University
Vol. 37, No. 2 (Fall 2018), 397-418

This article offers a corrective to scholarly focus on themes of racial authenticity and Thomas’s grief in Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah (1986), instead recovering the section on Beulah from the gendered sequestration that is marriage and domesticity. The essay reads Beulah’s subjectivity through queerness, first by acknowledging that her characterization elides the gendered politics of black heterosexuality and then in exploring Beulah’s longing for her own self as a black female—and queer—erotic. Beulah’s nonnormative genderedness is represented by an aesthetic of emergence that is signaled by the section title (“Canary in Bloom”) and that resonates with the black feminist coupling of ontology with creativity. The artfulness of Beulah’s becoming is evident in the negotiation of voice between the narrator and character; that is, the book’s queer erotics become structural in the collaboration between the narrator and Beulah, a mix of direct and free-indirect narration that permits a female camaraderie as the narrator’s authority is used to sustain Beulah’s limning.


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]