'Like signposts on the road': The Function of Literacy in Constructing Black Queer Ancestors


  • Eric Darnell Pritchard University of Texas, Austin




Literacy, Ancestorship, African American, LGBT, Queer, Race, Sexuality, Gender, Pedagogy, Black Queer Theory, Qualitative Research, Intersectionality, Historical Erasure


Previous scholarship in literacy and composition has noted the importance and function of ancestors in the literacy and rhetorical practices of descendants. However, such research has not explored how ancestorship functions for people at the marginalized intersection of racialized otherness and queer sexualities and genders. This article offers one response to this gap by reporting on the role of literacy in the life stories of sixty Black queer people residing in various regions across the United States who named historical erasure as a particularly detrimental form of oppression enacted by, though subverted through, literacy. An analysis of participants' uses of literacy to navigate historical erasure reveals that as participants encounter historical erasure, they disrupt its negative impact through four patterns of ancestorship: (1) literacy is used to create, discover, and affirm relationships to ancestors; (2) ancestors model the multiplicity of identities as a category of rhetorical analysis; (3) descendants’ identity formation/affirmation is affected by an ancestors’ writing and lives; and (4) descendants receive cross-generational mandates to become ancestors through literacy. Further, while African American literacies and LGBTQ literacies have each emerged as potent areas of scholarship in literacy and composition studies, the absence of a sustained and substantive discussion at the intersection of both areas contributes to a larger critical vacuum in rhetoric and composition in which we have overlooked the literacy and composition practices shaped at the intersection of race and queerness. This article begins to address this oversight through an in-depth exploration of a specific literacy and rhetorical practice among Black LGBTQ people.

Author Biography

Eric Darnell Pritchard, University of Texas, Austin

Eric Darnell Pritchard is an assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a faculty affiliate in the Department of English and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. His most recent scholarly publications appear in Harvard Educational Review, Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, and Southern Communication Journal. He has completed a book-length manuscript titled Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy, which upon publication will be the first book-length study of the literacy and rhetorical practices of everyday Black LGBTQ people in the United States.




How to Cite

Pritchard, E. D. (2014). ’Like signposts on the road’: The Function of Literacy in Constructing Black Queer Ancestors. Literacy in Composition Studies, 2(1), 29–56. https://doi.org/10.21623/