|Education||B.A, University of Memphis, 1964; M.A. in 1966; Ph.D in English, Brandeis University, 1974.|
|Occupation||Professor, literary critic, feminist scholar|
|Known for||Essays on African-American literature|
|Notable work||"Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book", 1987; Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, 1991|
Hortense Spillers (born 1942) is an American literary critic, Black Feminist scholar and the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor at Vanderbilt University. A scholar of the African diaspora, Spillers is known for her essays on African-American literature in Black, White, and In Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2003 and Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, published by Routledge in 1991.
Spillers received her B.A from University of Memphis in 1964, M.A. in 1966, and her Ph.D in English at Brandeis University in 1974. While at the University of Memphis, she was a disc jockey for the all-black radio station WDIA. She has held positions at Haverford College, Wellesley College, Emory University, and Cornell University. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations.
Spillers is best known for her 1987 scholarly article "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book", one of the most cited essays in African-American literary studies. The essay brings together Spillers' investments in African-American studies, feminist theory, semiotics, and cultural studies to articulate a theory of African-American female gender construction. Spillers is concerned with the alleged problem of matriarchal family structure in black communities. However, rather than accepting the wisdom of the Moynihan Report (which established the trope of the absent black father), Spillers makes two moves--one historical and the other political. First, she argues that the absent father in African American history is the white slave master, since legally the child followed the condition of the mother. Thus, the enslaved mother was always positioned as a father, as the one from whom children inherited their names and social status. Similarly, black men and women were both positioned as "vulnerable, supine bod[ies]" capable of being "invaded/raided" by a woman or man (77) --that is as "ungendered" (68) and separated from its own "active desire" (68). After suggesting that this lineage removes African Americans from patriarchal gender and places them outside of family, she concludes by suggesting that men and women descended from this situation might be well positioned to overturn patriarchy, not by joining the ranks of normative gender but by operating from the androgynous "boundary" (74) where they have been placed--that is, by black men's saying "'yes' to the 'female' within" and by black women "claiming the monstrosity of a female with the power to name" (80). In a 2006 interview entitled, “Whatcha Gonna Do?—Revisiting Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” Spillers was interviewed by Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Jennifer L. Morgan, and Shelly Eversley. In that interview Spillers shares insight into her writing process. She states that she wrote “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” with a sense of hopelessness. She was in part writing in response to All the Men are Black all the Women are White but Some of Us are Brave. Spillers was writing to a moment in history where the importance of black women in critical theory was being denied. She wrote with a sense of urgency in order to create a theoretical taxonomy for black women to be studied in the academy.
- Spillers, Hortense J. Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
- "All the Things You Could Be by Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother: Psychoanalysis and Race." Critical Inquiry. Summer 1996 22. 4
- ---. "Interstices: A Small Drama of Words." Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 152–175. Print. (First published in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Carol Vance, Ed. New York: Pandora/HarperCollins. 1984)
- ---. "‘Mama’s Baby Papa’s Maybe’: An American Grammar Book." Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 203–229. (First published in Diacritics, Summer 1987
- ---. "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Post-Date. 1994." Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 428–470. Print. (First published in Boundary 2 v. 21, Fall 1994)
- --- "Day In the Life of Civil Rights". The Black Scholar. Oakland, CA: May-June 1978. Print.
- Spillers, Hortense J. et al. "‘ Whatcha Gonna Do?’: Revisiting‘ Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book’: A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, & Jennifer L. Morgan." Women’s Studies Quarterly 35.1/2 (2007): 299–309. Print.
- Hortense J. Spillers, ed. Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. New York: Routledge, 1991.
- Pryse, Marjorie, and Hortense J. Spillers, eds. Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
- "Hortense Spillers". Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Issues in Critical Investigation. "Meet the Director".
- DeCosta-Willis, Miriam (2008). Notable Black Memphians. Cambria. p. 286. ISBN 9781621968634.
- Jarrett, ed., Gene Andrew (2010). A Companion to African American Literature. Wiley. p. 414. ISBN 9781444323481.
- Kowaleski-Wallace, ed., Elizabeth (2009). Encyclopedia of Feminist Literary Theory. Routledge. p. 543. ISBN 9780203874448.
- Spillers, Hotrense (2007). "Whatcha Gonna Do?: Revisiting "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe": An American Grammar Book". Feminist Press at CUNY. 35 (1/2): 299-309.
- Haslett, Tim. Hortense Spillers Interviewed by Tim Haslett for the Black Cultural Studies web site collective. Ithaca, New York. February 4, 1998.
- Black Cultural Studies-Hortense J. Spillers