Black People Are My Business


by Thabiti Lewis

Exploration of Bambara’s practices of liberation that encourage resistance to oppression and solidarity.

“Black People Are My Business”: Toni Cade Bambara’s Practices of Liberation studies the works of Bambara (1939–1995), an author, documentary filmmaker, social activist, and professor. Thabiti Lewis’s analysis serves as a cultural biography, examining the liberation impulses in Bambara’s writing, which is concerned with practices that advance the material value of the African American experience and exploring the introspection between artist production and social justice. This is the first monograph that focuses on Bambara’s unique approach and important literary contribution to 1970s and 1980s African American literature. It explores her unique nationalist, feminist, Marxist, and spiritualist ethos, which cleared space for many innovations found in black women’s fiction.

Divided into five chapters, Lewis’s study relies on Bambara’s voice (from interviews and essays) to craft a “spiritual wholeness aesthetic”—a set of principles that comes out of her practices of liberation and entail family, faith, feeling, and freedom—that reveals her ability to interweave ethnic identity, politics, and community engagement and responsibility with the impetus of balancing black male and female identity influences and interactions within and outside the community. One key feature of Bambara’s work is the concentration on women as cultural workers whereby her notion of spiritual wholeness upends what has become a scholarly distinction between feminism and black nationalism. Bambara’s fiction situates her as a pivotal voice within the Black Arts Movement and contemporary African American literature.

Bambara is an understudied and important artistic voice whose aversion to playing it safe both personified and challenged the boundaries of black nationalism and feminism. “Black People Are My Business” is a wonderful addition to any reader’s list, especially those interested in African American literary and cultural studies.

Paperback | 326 pages | Wayne State University Press | 2020

Thabiti Lewis is professor of English and interim associate vice chancellor of academic affairs at Washington State University, Vancouver. He is also the editor of Conversations with Toni Cade Bambara and Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America. He writes extensively about masculinity, sports, and popular culture.

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