Samantha C. Tenorio

Women's Studies

Being interested in matters of intersectionality, Samantha Tenorio wanted to pursue research that looked at the intersectional identities of the Harlem Renaissance’s women-loving women. With the help of Professor Scheper, she was able to produce a project that illustrated the benefits of looking at sites and forms of cultural production of the Harlem Renaissance through a queer lens, in order to see how certain transgressive identities, such as that of the women-loving women were informed. Samantha is working towards her Ph.D. in African American Studies at Northwestern University.triangle.gif (504 bytes)




The experience of black “women-loving women” during the Harlem Renaissance is directly influenced by intersectional identity, or their positioning in the intertwined social hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. Considering contemporary terms like lesbian and bisexual, it is difficult to define the sexual identity of many famous black women of the early twentieth century, such as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Bessie Jackson. However, their work both on and off the stage contributes to the construction of Harlem Renaissance identities that transgress both racial and sexual conventions. At a time of racial segregation, but also of ideologies of uplift within the black community, social spaces existed in Harlem where sexual “deviance” and race-mixing could be articulated and seen explicitly. Using song lyrics, literature, and scholarly work on social and cultural spaces of the time period from 1919 to 1939, this paper speaks to the benefit of a queer lens as it analyzes how certain forms and sites of cultural production, specifically the blues, the cabaret, and literature, informed the formation of these transgressive identities.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentor                                                                                                                

Jeanne A. Scheper

School of Humanities

Tenorio’s research focuses on identity formations and counterpublic spaces in the early 20th century U.S. and engages with a recent body of scholarship on the Harlem Renaissance that foregrounds race, sexuality, and performance studies. Using Black Queer Studies frameworks, she examines how power operates in social institutions and looks at the production of “counterpublic” spheres, analyzing “how certain forms and sites of cultural production, specifically the blues, the cabaret, and literature helped to construct transgressive identities.” She was interested in how archives are contested domains for the repository of history and memory. Her analysis of these Harlem spaces and cultural practices revealed how queer Black females performed counterdiscourses that challenged the hegemonic racialization and gendering of cultural and social spaces.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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