Hazel Carby (1948-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory
Hazel Carby was born in Britain of Jamaican and Welsh descent. She received her doctorate from the University of Birmingham in 1984. In the years before she entered graduate school, Carby taught high school English in East London. During this time, she also worked with local antiracist groups. Her first faculty position was at Wesleyan University, which she held until 1989. In that year, she moved to Yale University, where she is currently Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor and chair of the Department of African American studies. Her first major publication, Reconstructing Womanhood, was a revisionist reexamination of the tradition of African American writing by women. Like bell hooks and other feminist theorists of race, Carby insists on the social and historical determinations of racism and racial identity. In Race Men, she begins with a critique of W. E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk and its representation of masculinity and then proceeds to analyze the repressed contradictions concealed by black male bodies as they are represented in literature and other media. Across the spectrum of representations of black masculinity Carby finds a rejection of the influence of black women and gay men.
Carby's work, like that of other theorists in Postcolonial Studies, focuses on racism as a colonial problem. Though she understands the determinations of local politics and social environments, she is also sensitive to how racism and racial identity are determined in global contexts. In Cultures in Babylon, she brings together her many essays on women and migration, black Feminism, and multiculturalism in “black Britain” and “African America.” Carby's provocative critique of culture does not exclude the institutional contexts in which African American and black British literature is taught and canonized. Her work on the sexual politics in the UK and the science fiction writer Octavia Butler continues to test the boundaries of African American studies and to advocate a more open and inclusive study of contemporary Western cultures.
Carby, Hazel. Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America. London: Verso, 1999.
---- . Race Men. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
---- . Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman
Novelist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.