Skin Deep, Spirit Strong

The Black Female Body in American Culture
Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, Editor
Traces the evolution of the black female body in the American imagination


The essays in this richly illustrated collection chart the place of the black female body in the American imagination. Blending original and classic essays to reveal connections between art, literature, public policy, the history of medicine, and theories of sexuality, Skin Deep, Spirit Strong presents a persuasive argument for broadening the ongoing conversation about the body.

The feminist scholars and artists represented here employ a variety of critical approaches as they lead the reader to a new understanding of categorization and stereotype in visual culture. Considering elements of myth, fear, lust, and sentimentality, Skin Deep, Spirit Strong illustrates the ways in which literary, artistic, and scientific views of gender, race, and corporeality both influence the creation of images of black women and shape their audience's perceptions.

Contributors include Rachel Adams, Elizabeth Alexander, Lisa Collins, Bridgett Davis, Lisa E. Farrington, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Evelynn Hammonds, Terri Kapsalis, Jennifer L. Morgan, Siobhan B. Somerville, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, Carla Williams, and Doris Witt.

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders is Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and Institute of Women's Studies, Emory University.

Praise / Awards

  • "In American culture, no subject is more central--or less analyzed--than the trope of the Black female body. Skin Deep, Spirit Strong fills a void in the scholarship and should be a key text in African-American, women's, and cultural studies courses."
    —Paula Giddings, Smith College

  • "This collection of essays and visual art from a broad array of perspectives reflects concepts and theories on black women's bodies in American literature, history, and visual culture. . . . . [T]his collection of eloquent and passionate essays will appeal to academic and nonacademic readers alike."
    —Vanessa Bush, Booklist

  • ". . . Wallace-Sanders' collection is certainly significant to scholars of both race and gender in its ambitious attempt to map new theoretical space to articulate black subjectivity."
    —Patricia Carter, Fore Word Magazine (Traverse City), Mid-Winter Issue 2003

  • "The essays featured in Kimberly Wallace-Sanders's Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female in American Culture masterfully explore the painful history behind the American fascination with the black female form in history, art, literature, and science, as well as the nebulous place it holds within current feminist discourse. As a historical document, Skin Deep makes for a fascinating and sometimes horrifying read. . . . All in all, however, the mere presence of these essays serves to do what history, unfortunately, has not: rescue the black female form from 'other' status, and to celebrate it as unique, strong, and, above all, beautiful."
    —Chanel Lee , Village Voice, March 18, 2003

  • "[A] powerful and revealing look at the many visual, textual, and archival legacies that influence us as we move through contemporary society."
    —Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Harvard University, Women's Review of Books, September 2003

Look Inside

Part 1

Part II

Part III


Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted May 2003 and August 2009.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 368pp.
  • 44 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06707-7

Add to Cart
  • $36.95 U.S.