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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Toni Cade Bambara
- Sandra Cisneros
- Judith Ortiz Cofer
- Leslie Feinberg
- Diane Glancy
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- David Mamet
- Toni Morrison
- Thomas Pynchon
- Alice Walker
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995)

Atlanta, Georgia--High School Student Taylor Washington Is Arrested at Lebs Delicatessen--His Eighth Arrest
[7154] Danny Lyon, Atlanta, Georgia--High School Student Taylor Washington Is Arrested at Lebs Delicatessen--His Eighth Arrest (1963), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-4843].

Toni Cade Bambara Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
In addition to writing many stories and novels, Toni Cade Bambara was a civil rights activist, teacher, and editor. She lived in Harlem for the first ten years of her life, and her fiction reflects her intimate knowledge of city spaces. She also traveled extensively in adulthood, making trips to Cuba and Vietnam and a move to Atlanta. Bambara was committed to using her skills as a writer not only to entertain, but also to educate and contribute to social and political movements. When not writing, she was fervently devoted to activism in other forms. Early in her life she worked "in the trenches" to help minority city dwellers, and late in her life she made activist films, including a television documentary that spotlighted police brutality. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was also involved in the women's and black liberation movements, and before her death she encouraged many young southern writers to continue to use literature as a tool for social revolution.

In her fiction, Bambara told stories about African Americans in the rural South and the urban North and of immigrants from the Caribbean. She depicted vibrant, though certainly not trouble-free, black communities whose residents were coming to terms with the changes in American society. In an 1982 taped interview with Kay Bonetti of the American Audio Prose Library, Bambara said, "When I look back at my work with any little distance the two characteristics that jump out at me is one, the tremendous capacity for laughter, but also a tremendous capacity for rage." Both are apparent in most of her works. In "Medley," for example, we see the laughter shared by women sipping drinks together as well as the frustrations felt by Sweet Pea, the main character, when the men around her act as if her opinion is meaningless. A young feminist who is dedicated to her dream of building a home for herself and her daughter, Sweet Pea, like many nascent feminists at the time, feels uncomfortable "neglecting" or leaving behind the man in her life. Bambara knew that in order to thrive--not just survive--women would need to learn how to adapt to society's ever-changing rhythms without sacrificing their own identities in the process. In both her fiction and her personal life, Bambara refused to give up the fight, and she continued to work after a cancer diagnosis until her death. She was the epitome of the "liberated woman"--an educated, socially dedicated, creative individual who in every way used the personal to political effect. Bambara's works include the short story collections Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Birds Are Still Alive (1977), as well as the novel The Salt Eaters (1978).

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