Speculative Black Girl Ethics: Reading Practices, Visual Culture, And The Urgency Of The Present

Kiana Murphy, University of Pennsylvania


Speculative Black Girl Ethics: Reading Practices, Visual Culture, and the Urgency of the Present examines Black women’s writing in the late 20th and 21st century with a particular focus on how their fiction repurposes and reimagines narratives of girlhood. Positioning these narratives within the emerging field of Black Girlhood Studies, I argue that Black girls proffer an alternative reading practice of speculation, a means to reconfigure other notions of being, resistance, and futurity that is animated but not exhausted by the totalizing effects of anti- Blackness. I include a diverse array of texts including fiction, poetry, film, and comics in order to examine the ways Black girls put pressure on form and demand new readings of race, class, gender, and sexuality. My project considers how we come to know identity through form, centralizing Black girls as critical theorists in their own right. Informed by new archival insights, I begin with a re-reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and end with the recent graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred to argue for a new visual grammar of Blackness and resistance that attends to the emergencies of Black life in the 21st century. In my other two chapters, I also consider the creative ways Black girls process what it means come of age, assembling and re-orienting themselves around play objects, each other, and their environments. Not only do these girls provide critical assessments of Black life in an anti-Black world, they also create alternative maps of care, friendship, and intimacy.