Centers of the Self: Stories by Black American Women from the Nineteenth Century to the Present



Centers of the Self: Stories by Black American Women from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

This edition

"Centers of the Self: Stories by Black American Women from the Nineteenth Century to the Present". Ed. Judith A. Hamer and Martin J. Hamer. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. x+355 pp.

Online access

Table of contents


• Judith A. Hamer and Martin J. Hamer / Introduction
• Frances Ellen Watkins Harper / The Two Offers (1859)
• Fannie Barrier Williams / After Many Days: A Christmas Story (1902)
• Alice Dunbar-Nelson / The Stones of the Village (1910)
• Jessie Redmon Fauset / Mary Elizabeth (1919)
• Angelina Weld Grimké / Goldie (1920)
• Marita Bonner / One Boy's Story (1925)
• Nella Larsen / Sanctuary (1930)
• Zora Neale Hurston / The Gilded Six-Bits (1933)
• Dorothy West / The Typewriter (1944)
• Mary Elizabeth Vroman / See How They Run (1951)
• Ann Petry / Miss Muriel (1958)
• Diane Oliver / Key to the City (1965)
• Paule Marshall / To Da-Duh, in Memoriam (1967)
• Alice Walker / To Hell with Dying (1967)
• Sherley Anne Williams / Tell Martha Not to Moan (1968)
• Eugenia W. Collier / Marigolds (1969)
• Sonia Sanchez / After Saturday Night Comes Sunday (1971)
• Toni Cade Bambara / My Man Bovanne (1972)
• Gayl Jones / Jevata (1977)
• Colleen McElroy / Sister Detroit (1978)
• Ntozake Shange / Comin to Terms (1979)
• Frenchy Hodges / Requiem for Willie Lee (1979)
• Rita Dove / Damon and Vandalia (1985)
• Ann Allen Shockley / The World of Rosie Polk (1987)
• Connie Porter / Hoodoo (1988)
• Tina McElroy Ansa / Willie Bea and Jaybird (1991)
• Jamaica Kincaid / Song of Roland (1993)


Publisher's description

"A chronologically arranged collection of short fiction from some of America's best Black women writers. Each work reveals an aspect of the core experience of self-discovery. Twenty-seven stories by black American women. They write on being abandoned by men, on maintaining spiritual strength and on the search for an identity. With biographies of the writers."

Reviews and notices of anthology

• "Publishers' Weekly" (31 Oct. 1994).
"a whole the chronologically arranged tales underscore some recurring concerns of black women: abandonment by men, the maintaining of spiritual strength under the most adverse circumstances the search for identity and self-respect. As the stories move toward the present, the predominantly female protagonists move from denying to celebrating their heritage. In Alice Dunbar-Nelson's ``The Stones of the Village'' (1910), for instance, a young, black lawyer passes as white, while S.A. Williams's ``Tell Martha Not to Moan'' (1968) celebrates, as the Hamers put it in their informative introduction, ``the pattern of unflagging support of black mothers for their daughters.'' Complete with a short biography of each author, this is a rich sampler of the voices, narrative techniques and life experiences of African American women writers."

Commentary on anthology

• Burns, Chris. "Dr. Judith Hamer: Preserving the History of Black Women Writers." 26 April 2016.
"When her late husband, Martin, had a short story published without his permission in an anthology in the 1980s, the pair took the opportunity to force the publication of their own collection of literature. “We told the publishers, ‘We’re going to sue you, but maybe we won’t sue you if you give us a contract for this book we’re going to write,’” Hamer said, laughing. “It’s going to be a real book about black women short story writers. I had seen an anthology of black women writers. I didn’t like that it was excerpts from novels and some short stories. They were perverting the definition of a short story,” she said. And so, Dr. Hamer and her husband successfully published one of the first true anthologies of short stories written by black women — Centers of the Self."
"Searching for, and sometimes finding, hidden gems, Hamer said, was the joy of working on the project with her husband. “We had to keep the goal in mind, and there was one fight when we were both working on the introduction … but other times it was just a delight because we found these stories in little journals, in the Columbia University Library. “We’d have arguments about which stories to introduce; we’d both lay out our reasons and look at what we already had. There was always a nice, thorough discussion.” Many of the stories they found, especially the older stories, were inward-facing works. Comparatively, Hamer said, many black male authors looked “outward at society.” “They’re different from what black men were writing,” she said. “They tended to look inward at domestic concerns, writing about children, relationships and neighbors. Then, of course, [over the years] that whole thing broadens out.”"

See also

• Martin J. Hamer died in 2004 at age 72. His own short stories were included in several anthologies ( 29 Aug. 2004)--including "Black American Short Stories: One Hundred Years of the Best." Ed. John Henrik Clarke (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), which includes the story "Sarah" by Martin J. Hamer. He worked, before his retirement, as a communications manager at IBM.
• Dr. Judith A. Hamer was, in 1994, vice president of corporate training and development at Paine Webber in Hoboken, NJ (New York Times 18 Dec. 1994: 82).

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