Cover for CONNOR: Imagining Grace: Liberating Theologies in the Slave Narrative Tradition

Imagining Grace

Liberating Theologies in the Slave Narrative Tradition
Awards and Recognition:

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2001

Extends the tradition of the slave narrative to contemporary artists and demonstrates how they all work toward a “liberation theology”--even though it may not be traditionally Christian or sacred.

In this subtle and illuminating study, Kimberly Rae Connor surveys examples of contemporary literature, drama, art, and music that extend the literary tradition of African-American slave narratives. Revealing the powerful creative links between this tradition and liberation theology's search for grace, she shows how these artworks profess a liberating theology of racial empathy and reconciliation, even if not in traditionally Christian or sacred language.

From Frederick Douglass's autobiographical writings through Richard Wright's imaginative reconstruction of slavery to Ernest Gaines's Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the candescent novels of Toni Morrison, slave narratives exhort the reader to step into the experience of the dispossessed. Connor underscores the broad influence of the slave narrative by considering nonliterary as well as literary works, including Glenn Ligon's introspective art, Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman performance pieces, and Charlie Haden's politically engaged Liberation Music Orchestra. Through these works, readers, listeners, and viewers imagine grace on two levels: as the liberation of the enslaved from oppression and as their own liberation from prejudice and "willed innocence."

Calling to task a complacent white society that turns a blind eye to deep-seated and continuing racial inequalities, Imagining Grace shows how these creative endeavors embody the search for grace, seeking to expose racism in all its guises and lay claim to political, intellectual, and spiritual freedom.


"Graceful, wide ranging, and heartfelt. . . . Well researched and free of jargon, the volume eschews the discourse and paradigms of contemporary cultural theory in favor of wisdom and stories about race from writers, musicians, and cultural icons of all kinds, from Rosa Parks to sports broadcaster Red Barber." -- Choice

"A powerfully lucid study of contemporary literature, drama, art, and music rooted in the African-American slave narrative tradition. . . . Connor's book is highly intelligent, substantiated with a variety of critical sources, and it makes the crucial argument that liberatory arts imaginatively move audiences of all races toward social justice and inclusiveness." -- Rachel Stein, Multicultural Review

"Unveils the far-reaching importance of theological aesthetics to the American slave narrative tradition and its many descendents. . . . Connor's study of the legacy of slave narratives invites us to shift the focus of scholarly fascination from the debilitating effects of racism and scenes of subjection to the undervalued and neglected concepts of imaginative creation and transformation." -- Christopher C. Freeburg, American Literature

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