(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Thulani Davis’s Maker of Saints, Alex Decatur, a performance artist and sculptor known for works that draw on exotic religious imagery, falls to her death from the window of her Manhattan apartment house. Her neighbor and friend, a former artist named Bird Kincaid, is certain that Alex did not commit suicide as the investigators conclude. Rather, she is convinced that Alex’s controlling lover, an influential art critic named Frank Burton, is responsible for her death. For some time, Alex had heard the sounds of violent arguments coming from their apartment.

Much earlier, Burton had written a disparaging review of Bird’s first solo show, a review so scathing that it caused Bird to stop painting. She works now as a sound engineer for public radio documentaries. Her obsession with proving Burton responsible for the crime energizes her. As Bird begins to catalog Alex’s effects left in her apartment, she comes across boxes of videotapes containing Alex’s experimental performance pieces. Bird is certain that Alex, fearing for her life, used the tapes to leave clues behind in case anything happened to her. Bird becomes intrigued by the tapes, which reveal aspects of her friend that she had never suspected and which shed light on the psychologically twisted relationship Alex maintained with Burton.

When Bird herself is brutally attacked in her apartment house by a man wearing a ski mask, she feels suddenly vulnerable. She seeks...

(The entire section is 541 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Blocker, Jane. Where Is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999. Analyzes the artist Davis used as model for Alex. Investigates the implications of performance art as a way to achieve identity.

Davis, Thulani. “In Our Own Terms.” In Defining Ourselves: Black Writers in the Nineties, edited by Elizabeth Nunez and Brenda M. Greene. New York: P. Lang, 1999. Davis’s statement on contemporary African American literature, her own writing, and the place of the latter within the former.

Davis, Thulani, Greg Tate, Portia Maultsby, Clyde Taylor, and Ishmael Reed. “Ain’t We Still Got Soul?” In Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure, edited by Monique Guillory and Richard C. Green. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Transcript of a roundtable discussion between Davis and four other important African American writers on the state of contemporary African American literature and culture.

Farrington, Lisa E. Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004. Chronicles the era of performance art and the implications of such engaging pieces as cultural and social metaphors for women of color.

Goldberg, Rosalee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001. Standard volume that defines the cultural climate upon which Davis draws—the lively and often shocking world of performance art in the 1980’s. Helpful for understanding Davis’ use of art as a vehicle for an artist’s private redemption.

“Thulani Davis.” In Contemporary Authors. Vol. 182. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Biographical information and bibliography of early reviews.