"Sealed With a Kiss on Your Artery": An Archive of Southern Lesbian Desire

University of Mississippi
Publication year

See the second chapter, which focuses on "Ann Allen Shockley [who] wrote some of the first romance novels centering black lesbian experiences" (7) and in particular the section (pp. 60-76) on "The Shroud of Fiction: Privacy vs. Representation in Celebrating Hotchclaw."

Here's the abstract:

This dissertation examines southern lesbian feminist print culture of the 1970s-2000s, which produced some of the most intersectional work to come out of second-wave feminismespecially in terms of creative and critical challenges to anti-Blackness, classism, metrocentrism, and regional exceptionalism. A central contribution of “Sealed with a Kiss on Your Artery” is its reimagination of archival reading practices from a queer-feminist literary studies perspective. Each chapter examines the archive of a particular lesbian feminist figure and demonstrates a corresponding interpretive practice; I seek to encounter these historical figures in a manner befitting not only the facts of their contributions to lesbian feminism, but also their radical methods of mobilizing print culture to transform collective feeling, affiliation, and action.

Taking North Carolina-based Feminary Collective’s lesbian feminist literary journal as a starting point, the first chapter demonstrates backward-onward reflexivity as a methodology, which researchers can use to confront the past so that our presently-situated research serves ever-evolving visions of justice. Drawing from the archive of writer and special collections librarian Ann Allen Shockley, the second chapter combines some of her theories of librarianship with close readings of her fiction to argue for reading practices that remain cognizant of the power dynamics of archival research. The third chapter revisits the lesbian feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s through the archive of southern writer and sex activist Dorothy Allison; I illustrate a process of perverting the archives to tell a story that moves away from the language of war and centers erotic labor as a form of care work. Finally, the fourth chapter proposes a queer praxis of care, kinship, and grief-work modeled after the speculative archive of Jewelle Gomez’s neo-
slave vampire narrative The Gilda Stories.


Shockley’s many years of experience in both lesbian literary publishing and black librarianship converge in her most recent novel. Published in 2005, well after Shockley’s retirement from Fisk, Celebrating Hotchclaw (2005) explores the administrative politics of a perpetually underfunded and overstretched institution as it stood in the late eighties and early nineties. The novel’s catalyzing moment: after being hospitalized due to an accidental injury, a beloved professor who people assumed to be a cisgender man is discovered to have been assigned female at birth. Dr. Michael Elaine Stower serves as the focal point of the novel’s primary plot arc, yet the narrator grants them 19 very little interiorityeven less than some of the more minor characters. This conspicuous narrative distance strikes me as an act of grace towards a character whose privacy was medically invaded, resulting in professional and familial shaming and the loss of their job. Ultimately, as this novel is a romance much in the same vein as Shockley’s previous works, the reader can expect a decent outcome for Michael and the woman who had fallen in love with them both before and after their presumed “secret” was revealed. This love interest, Angela, is also an employee of the universitya librarian who is forced against her will to take on additional responsibilities as the university’s archivist, and for no extra pay. The novel serves readers a wholesome lesbian love story alongside a scathing critique of the abuses of power that pervade academia. Yet Shockley also helps us understand the ways in which people can fall into such abusive and discriminatory patterns for the sake of upholding the collectivein the case of Hotchclaw, the relatively conservative Christian HBCU that has to fight tooth and nail for its survival. (60-61)