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Interior Spaces, Spiritual Traces: Theorizing the Erotic in the Cultural Works and Creative Lives of Black Women Writers and Artists, 1930-1970


This dissertation engages the theoretical and everyday utility of Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic on a spiritual plane. I follow Lorde’s imaginative expansion of the erotic by developing a notion of spirituality animated by creativity, activism, and desire. I offer spiritual eroticism as an analytic point of inquiry for examining how Black women writers and artists in the mid-twentieth century—namely, poet and novelist Sarah Wright, journalist and author Ann Petry, and songwriter, pianist, and vocalist Aretha Franklin—create epistemologies and narratives that speak to the interior, social, and hopeful modalities for Black women. I assert that spiritual eroticism is but one way to engage the interiority of the self and the sublimity of the divine in order to imagine, reclaim, and experience a life in which one expresses their deepest knowledges to create within themselves and their communities spaces that are desirous, joyous and free.

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