Dr. Tara T. Green remembers what a big deal it was to watch Oprah Winfrey on TV as a young black girl.
“I’m an Oprah child,” says Green, associate professor of African American literature and gender studies at UNCG and director of the university’s African American Studies program. “I can remember coming home from school in my Catholic school uniform and watching Oprah because there was a black woman on TV in the afternoon. I would see her before I saw my mother, because she was still at work.”
Little did Green know then that she would grow up to study the pop culture icon and media mogul’s influence on shaping racial and cultural literacy the world over.
Green’s recently released book, “Presenting Oprah Winfrey, Her Films, and African American Literature,” is a collection of essays that examine the role Winfrey has played as an actress and producer of films that interpret works published by African American writers between 1937 and 1996. The first essay in the book is written by Green and provides a 21st century look at Sofia, the role played by Winfrey in “The Color Purple.”
Winfrey has produced or starred in 10 films and telefilms. The contributors critically examine representations of African Americans and sexuality, blues, class, interracial and intraracial prejudices, and their intersection with Winfrey’s influence as interpreter and mediator of African American literature and culture to diverse audiences.
“The first time I read ‘Native Son’ was because I saw Oprah Winfrey in the telefilm. And here I am with a PhD in English and I wrote my thesis and dissertation on Richard Wright. So I know personally the impact,” Green says.
“If it hadn’t been for Oprah Winfrey, what would people know about African American literary work? I look at her as a mediator who opened up a conversation that we might not have had about African American literature and film and African American women’s stories.”
After researching Winfrey’s film career, Green says she came to view the actress as just another person who experiences triumphs and failures in life. Some of her films, such as “The Color Purple,” were hits. Others, such as “Beloved,” crashed.
But always, Green says, Winfrey was a maverick willing to take considerable risks.
“As producer of ‘The Women of Brewster Place,’ she brought black lesbian love to the screen. People didn’t talk about that,” she says. “Only Oprah Winfrey could do that.”
Green is the author of “A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives of African American Men,” which won the National Council for Black Studies Award in 2011 for Outstanding Publication. A graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, she is currently completing a manuscript on New Orleans writer and activist Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Green also is vice president of the Langston Hughes Society.
“Presenting Oprah Winfrey, Her Films, and African American Literature,” 196 pages, is published by Palgrave MacMillan.