Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

Accountability and Protest: A Review of Spill

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She is saying Hortense Spillers’ name, but in a thousand different ways.

Spill: Writing for a Broader Public

by Clare Johnson


these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018

The cover art of Alexis Pauline Gumbs is enough to make anyone grab the book right off of the shelves in order to have a closer look. Upon further investigation, you will realize that this book contains a well deserved and necessary tribute to the Black Feminist scholar and American literary critic, Hortense Spillers. In 150 pages, Alexis Pauline Gumbs celebrates Spiller’s Black White and In Color, ​by addressing the concept of freedom and making it more accessible to a general public.  16422672_10102963303727372_3376124097467185387_o

Currently, Hortense Spillers is a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis and her Ph. D in English from Brandeis University. She has made her mark by publishing

extensive essays on African-American literature and culture. She has chosen to focus on the issues of nationality, sex, and race, thus becoming a prominent Black Feminist scholar of the 21st Century.

While reading ​Spill​, you might recognize a lowercase ‘i’ in some sections. Alexis Pauline Gumbs was very intensional in her punctuation. Where ‘I’ is capitalized, she making the statement that a personal pronoun can be used as a collective pronoun. The capital ‘I’ is put in comparison to a lowercase ‘i,’ where Gumbs is intending for her audience to read as if they were the ones in the story. By doing this, she is creating a text that more people can relate to and therefore, broadening her public.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs has formatted ​Spill​ in such a way where the reader is taken through a progression of the word ‘spill.’ She is saying Hortense Spillers’ name, but in a thousand different ways. In the section titled ‘Where She Ended Up,’ Gumbs uses the following definition of spill as a verb ‘to let (wind) out of a sail, typically by slackening the sheets.’ She melodically writes,

“but that was not at all why she had come back to the south. and the moon in her. the freedom-better-be-this-or-it-better-be-soon in her. the glare-of-the-silver-spoon in her would not comply. would not shrink down and would not lie. so when she asked her brazen question she heard the forks drop but not the sigh.” (​Spill, p​ . 96)

In this paragraph, Gumbs is describing Hortense Spiller’s quote: “a terrible silence, when in the presence of the many who have forgotten or never knew.” (Spillers, ​Formalism Comes to Harlem)


As Alexis Pauline Gumbs published ​Spill​, she was simultaneous creating two other books, following the theme of celebrating Black Feminist scholars. She chooses to experience “possibility” through Jacqui Alexander’s ​Pedagogies of Crossing, ​and “accountability” through Sylvia Wynter’s work, (you can read more about Wynter in  ​Being Human as Praxis edited by Katherine McKittrick). ​All while continuing Gumbs’ mission of crediting under-cited and under acknowledged black women in a way that includes a larger public beyond the academic community. Gumbs says that when she cites these Black Feminist scholars, she is citing them as an act of “accountability and protest.”

Spill ​allows us to visualize the meaning behind Hortense Spiller’s publications in a way that we can understand. She has expanded her public through the use of more accessible vocabulary and examples. What I most enjoyed about Gumbs colorful vocabulary was the visualization it created for me. I probably would not have taken away the same feeling from Spiller’s ​Black White and In Color as I did from Gumbs ​Spill. ​And that is one of the reasons why Gumbs’ ​Spill ​is so powerful. It gives a voice to those who have been silenced. It gives a sense of freedom to those who have experienced captivity. And finally, it gives a feeling of community to those who have been oppressed.

Cited Work:

“News.” ​Leading Black Feminist Scholar Hortense Spillers: For the Enslaved, Love Was Unstable | Barnard College​, Barnard College, 16 Feb. 2017,

Spill Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 


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