Megan Finch Analyzes the Trope of the "Mad Black Woman" in Literature
Photo Credit: Simon Goodacre
November 16, 2018
English and 2018 Mellon Dissertation Year Fellow, is currently writing a dissertation, "Unreasonable Blackness: Black Women Writing Madness, 1967 – 2015," on the emergence of literature by black women writers such as Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Ntozake Shange, Gayle Jones, and Gloria Naylor in the post Black Power/Civil Rights era that re-signified the trope of the mad black woman. These texts, Megan argues, are in conversation with the representation of blackness as mad outside of literature: “Whether in the form of mental illness, as in the case of Sandra Bland, or fury as in the case of Marissa Alexander, ‘madness’ mobilizes racism and sexism to produce different life, and death, outcomes for black women… Ascriptions of rationality and irrationality are neither neutral nor innocent, and what matters is often less about what is done than the person it is done to or by.”Megan’s dissertation also argues that the literary texts she is examining can elucidate how black women, and men, are read as “criminally” mad, inviting criminal convictions and punishments rather than compassion and redress. “In addition to adequately diagnosing the problem,” her work aims to “pay close attention to the ways in which these black women writers provide potential solutions to inequality and potential black futures that go beyond reinscribing hierarchies that, necessarily, place someone at the bottom.” (For more information about Megan’s dissertation, listen to the conversation between her and Alyssa Stalsberg Canelli, PhD at the top of this page.) Megan Finch, a PhD student in
Megan has found the English department “both intellectually challenging and inviting,” crediting the department with fostering “great working and mentoring relationships between graduate students and faculty” and “broadening my thinking in significant ways.” Throughout her time at Brandeis, Megan has worked closely with her advisors, Professors Faith Smith and Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman to develop her work, but others have contributed too: “Professor David Sherman for example, in spite of not being my advisor, read my work and offered helpful advice,” she says, and “John Burt has also been available to discuss literature, history…and dogs.”
After earning a PhD, Megan hopes continue in academia working on African-American literature and literature of the American South as a full-time professor and researcher.