AWE (A Woman’s Experience)


African American women, black women, storytelling


Beginning with slave narratives and continuing to the contemporary day, black autobiographers have shared and perpetuated the values and experiences of their communities through the medium of stories, which seek to expose perspectives that are often withheld or overshadowed by white voices. Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light participates in this tradition as she writes about her experiences as an African American woman in the United States. Near the text’s close, Smith asserts that storytelling is an act of “claiming the power to name and state and face the events, even the most awful events, making up a life” (279). This argument might seem naïve compared to how power has historically been seized through means of violence and hate, but most malicious power grabs have been fueled by hate-filled stories, which are used to justify or moralize the oppressor’s actions. Stories have the power to shape individuals, communities, and even nations in both negative and positive ways, and black Americans have tapped into the power of storytelling to combat negative stories that would control their communities. Slave narratives sought to expose injustice, Civil Rights activists wrote to fight for equality, and black voices today share their experiences with racism through digital and social media channels to promote social and legal reform. When Smith writes down her experiences, she endows herself with power to influence her readers and promote positive change.