Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Popular Culture Association: National Conference: Romance Area #pcarom @pcaromance -- Part Three

This is session three of the Romance Area of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association's national conference.

American Romance, Then and Now

"Lifting as We Climb": Iola LeRoy and the Early African-American Romance by Pamela Regis

Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted was published in in 1892 by African-American novelist Frances E.W. Harper. This, according to Regis, is one of the earliest African-American romance novels.

Here, pregnancy implies society is made more orderly and productive. And yet, the novel challenges society-defined essential elements of romance.

The heroine, Iola, is African-American but is fair, blue-eyed. This novel is about racial identity in the era of the civil war and slavery and passing. It is about her heroine's right to both desire and democracy and the right to choose her own hero. The novel advocates female agency, self-sufficiency, and independence as Iola rejects her ability to pass as white and embraces her black heritage.

Regis made some reference to Beverley Jenkins's Indigo, but other than it being set in the era of slavery, I missed the connection.

Making It American: Epic Romance and the National Myth by Maryan Wherry

American literature is comprised of four parts:

Epic Literature: quest, calamity, single action, beginning/middle/end, exaggerated heroic journeys, moral ideas/taboos of dominant culture, maturation of hero/heroine, learning that love is more valuable than wealth in life.

Grand Narrative (1950s): consensus school of historiography, national myth, equates what makes one American with what makes one male (vigilante/outlaw hero and rugged individualism).

Second Wave of Feminism: strong heroine, her failings (abuse books, physically weaker, etc.) due to society repressions not inherently hers.

Revisionist History

Heroic quest for heroine in bodice rippers: naïve, unschooled, sexual object, all kinds of abuse, awakened in many ways, her self-image is important not the HEA, allowing women to be written into the Grand Epic American literature.

The Antebellum South and the Wild Wild West are the most romanticized periods of American history.

You Say Anal Like It's A Bad Thing by Meagan Gacke

Considers Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rodgers as one of the first of contemporary romance novels. Her other well-known one is Wicked Loving Lies. They're in the grand old style of bodice rippers and underscore patriarchal rules and lack of women's agency.

The Sheik by E.M. Hull brought orientalism and sexuality into American consciousness. It does not adhere to a western sexual script. It uses orientalism to engage in different sexual, envelope-pushing acts. Initially, the heroine is kidnapped by the sheikh and is repeatedly raped. However, in time, she comes to enjoy sex. (This book buys into the Stockholm Syndrome.) The normal sex act is not as pleasurable as anal sex to the heroine, but is set up as the ideal goal. It is not deviant like anal. Heroine enjoyed deviant sex in the East, and initially tries to enjoy the ideal when she comes back to the western world. But she ends up bringing her eastern sexuality to the west. Her new hero learns to pleasure her in the new way. And thus, she's no longer an acted upon object. She has claimed her subjectivity.

Muslim Love American Style: Islamic-American Hybrid Culture and Romance in Muslim Fiction by Layla Abdullah-Poulos

This was the most fascinating paper of the session, partly because I had not thought about this and partly because the presentation was excellent.

Abdullah-Poulos talked about Muslim love, American style, specifically, native African-American Muslims featured in Islamic-American Romance fiction. It's an amalgamation of American and Islamic ideals in romance. These books are referred to as Native Born American Black Muslim Romantic Fiction. Abdullah-Poulos used NbA as the acronym.

[During audience questions, I asked whether these stories are like Christian inspirationals or like stories featuring Black Muslim characters. I also asked if they're like Arab-Muslim romances. Abdullah-Poulos said these are inspies, where religion and conversion plays an important role. Religion is like the third aspect of the rom, as important as love and marriage. As a contrast, in Arab-American romances, Islam is more a cultural aspect than a religious aspect.]

In Eurocentric white books, class and social structure keep the hero and heroine apart. In NbA, structure brings them together.

NbA books focus more on anti-Muslim hate than on racial bigotry. So the focus is more on them being Muslim, than on them being black. Thus, the microaggressions in African-American romance versus NbA romance are different.

Hijab covering and uncovering and the politics and societal reactions to that feature prominently in the narratives.

Fact: 90% of Black Muslims are converts. So conversion is a huge part of NbA rom. Non-Muslims cannot marry Muslims, so before they can get together, the non-Muslim has to convert. Islamic faith can serve as a unifier and also as a barrier to the rom. Islamic but interracial marriages are not discussed.

Polygamy is very common in NbA rom and communities. For example, read Real Muslim Wives of Philly by Elle Muslimah.

The hero and heroine in NbA stories are successful business people, professional, and upwardly mobile.

There are references to colorism in the narratives, where writers potentially defer to white hegemony. Mulatto women with long hair are seen as more desirable.

The Muslims in these stories are strictly practicing Muslims, so no physical contact, chaperoned dating, and a lot of use of technology and social media for communication.


Victoria Janssen said...

Again, thanks so much for these tantalizing summaries!

Keira Soleore said...

Heh! Tantalizing, aren't they?! I really, really enjoyed being there. At first, I thought, here I'm a lay romance reader/writer/editor, what would I know about the academic side of things?! But you know, I realized, I do know a reasonable bit just from hanging around in Romlandia so I was able to enjoy the sessions.

Amara Royce said...

While they all sound interesting, that last one really piqued my interest! Wow! Fascinating! Thanks so much for posting these. I look forward to the rest!

Keira Soleore said...

Amara, thank you for visiting and reading. Isn't that last talk fascinating? It was particularly fascinating to me because I'd read an Arabic-British-Muslim YA rom last year and it was interesting to me to see how Black-American-Muslim rom reads as compared to that.