This article centralizes Paule Marshall’s own conception of language and voice as vehicles of acculturation and resistance. Drawing from textual analyses of Brown Girls, Brownstones (1959), The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969), her own reflections upon language, and literary scholarship, this article contends that Marshall’s use of language seeks to give voice to the marginalized, pay homage to the “mother poets” who influenced her, and offer a rebuke to a Fanonian “white gaze” in its unapologetic embrace of culture and history. With specific attention to intricacies of Bajan Creole and African American Vernacular English, I show how Marshall preserves the intricate tapestry and potency of black speech as a political instrument. Her embrace of the “beautiful/ugly” offers a framework for understanding the grittiness and grace of the language she employs, a language which reflects the world it describes.
This framework can be applied to better understand, for example, the black vernacular’s place (or lack thereof) within political/juridical spaces in the twenty-first century – such as Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in defense of her friend Trayvon Martin –, and digital spaces, such as Black Twitter. I locate her continued relevance in her intentional deployment of language as both resistance and refuge.