Creating a Community of Readers: Mary Mebane's Exploration of Difference in Mary and Mary, Wayfarer

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Karen A. Weyler, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: The circumstances surrounding Mary Mebane's death in 1991—an anonymous death in a county welfare home, with a pauper's burial—are strongly reminiscent of the death of Zora Neale Hurston. Although Mebane never attained the stature that Hurston achieved in her lifetime, she too spoke penetratingly about the realities of growing up black and female in the twentieth-century South. Mebane was born in 1933, in Durham, North Carolina, a very different South from the Eatonville, Florida, of Hurston's childhood. Mebane also pursued an academic career, earning a BA from North Carolina College (where Hurston briefly taught); she eventually earned both a master's degree and a doctorate in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which in 1982 awarded her a Distinguished Alumna Award. Mebane saw herself as a writer first and foremost, and she occasionally published articles about the South in tine New York Times Op-Ed pages under the editorship of Harrison Salisbury, who provided her with much-needed encouragement throughout her career. She also published essays in the Milwaukee Journal and the Charlotte Observer, sometimes pseudonymously under the name "Elizabeth Wheatley." Unlike Hurston, Mebane was not an anthropologist per se, but her autobiographies perform anthropological work of a sort. Mary (1981) and Mary, Wayfarer (1983) contribute significantly to our understanding of how southern women, and African-American women in particular, must sometimes struggle to define themselves against the beliefs and values of their communities.1 Mebane rejected the self-abnegating silence adhered to by most in the working-class community of her birth. Her autobiographies provide a poignant portrait of a woman whose outspokenness alienated her from this community, yet who desperately sought to understand this community and be a part of it. Mebane's alternative was to create for herself a new community of sympathetic readers for whom she recalls the frightening years of the segregated South, the excitement of the civil rights movement and the turbulent integration struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Additional Information

Southern Quarterly
Language: English
Date: 1997
Mary Mebane, Southern Literature, Mary, Wayfarer

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