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Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Carol Singley, Oxford University Press USA, 2013

American literature abounds with orphans who experience adoption or placements that resemble adoption. These stories do more than recount adventures of children living away from home. They tell an American story of family and national identity. In narratives from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, adoption functions as narrative event and trope that describes the American migratory experience, the impact of Calvinist faith, and the growth of democratic individualism.

The roots of literary adoption appear in the discourse of Puritan settlers, who ambivalently took leave of their birth parent country and portrayed themselves as abandoned children. Believing they were chosen children of God, they also prayed for spiritual adoption and emulated God’s grace by extending adoption to others. Nineteenth-century adoption literature develops from this notion of adoption as salvation and from simultaneous attachments to the Old World and the New. In domestic fiction of the mid-nineteenth century, adoption also reflects a focus on nurture in childrearing, increased mobility in the nation, and middle-class concerns over immigration and urbanization, assuaged when the orphan finds a proper, loving home. Adoption signals fresh starts and the opportunity for success without genealogical constraints, especially for white males, but inflected by gender and racial biases, it often entails dependency for girls and children of color.

A complex signifier of difference, adoption gives voice to sometimes contradictory calls to origins and fresh beginning; to feelings of worthiness and unworthiness. In writings from Cotton Mather to Edith Wharton, it both replicates and offers an alternative to the genealogical norm, evoking ambivalence as it shapes national mythologies.

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Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives

E. Wayne Carp, University of Michigan Press, 2004

Adoption affects an estimated 60 percent of Americans, but despite its pervasiveness, this social institution has been little examined and poorly understood. Adoption in America gathers essays on the history of adoptions and orphanages in the United States. Offering provocative interpretations of a variety of issues, including antebellum adoption and orphanages; changing conceptions of adoption in late-nineteenth-century novels; Progressive Era reform and adoptive mothers; the politics of “matching” adoptive parents with children; the radical effect of World War II on adoption practices; religion and the reform of adoption; and the construction of birth mother and adoptee identities, the essays in Adoption in America will be debated for many years to come.

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Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas

Karen Dubinsky, University of Toronto Press, 2010

International adoptions are both high-profile and controversial, with the celebrity adoptions and critically acclaimed movies such as Casa de los babys of recent years increasing media coverage and influencing public opinion. Neither celebrating nor condemning cross-cultural adoption, Karen Dubinsky considers the political symbolism of children in her examination of adoption and migration controversies in North America, Cuba, and Guatemala.

Babies Without Borders tells the interrelated stories of Cuban children caught in Operation Peter Pan, adopted Black and Native American children who became icons in the Sixties, and Guatemalan children whose ‘disappearance’ today in transnational adoption networks echoes their fate during the country’s brutal civil war. Drawing from extensive research as well as from her critical observations as an adoptive parent, Karen Dubinsky aims to move adoption debates beyond the current dichotomy of ‘imperialist kidnap’ versus ‘humanitarian rescue.’ Integrating the personal with the scholarly, Babies Without Borders exposes what happens when children bear the weight of adult political conflicts.

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Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging

Mark Jerng, University of Minnesota Press, 2010

Transracial adoption has recently become a hotly contested subject of contemporary and critical concern, with scholars across the disciplines working to unravel its complex implications. In Claiming Others, Mark C. Jerng traces the practice of adoption to the early nineteenth century, revealing its surprising centrality to American literature, law, and social thought. Jerng considers how adoption makes us rethink the parent-child bond as central to issues of race and nationality, showing the ways adoption also speaks to broader questions about our history and identity. He analyzes adoption through a diverse set of texts, including the 1851 Massachusetts statute that established adoption as we understand it today, early adoption manuals, the New York Times blog Relative Choices, and the work of John Tanner, Lydia Maria Child, William Faulkner, Charles Chesnutt, Chang-rae Lee, and David Henry Hwang. Imaginative and social practices of transracial adoption have shaped major controversies, Jerng argues, from Native American removal to slavery to cold war expansionism in the twentieth century and the contemporary global market in children. As Claiming Others makes clear, understanding adoption is crucial not just to understanding the history between races in the United States, but also the meaning of emancipation and the role of family in nationhood.
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Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture

Marianne Novy, University of Michigan Press, 2004

Imagining Adoption looks at representations of adoption in an array of literary genres by diverse authors including George Eliot, Edward Albee, and Barbara Kingsolver as well as ordinary adoptive mothers and adoptee activists, exploring what these writings share and what they debate.

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The Imprint of Another Life: Adoption Narratives and Human Possibility

Margaret Homans, University of Michigan Press, 2013

Adoption has a special relationship to fiction-making, and tends to generate stories rather than uncover bedrock truths. Adoptive families are made, not born; in the words of novelist Jeanette Winterson, “adopted children are self-invented because we have to be.” The Imprint of Another Life: Adoption Narratives and Human Possibility shows some of the ways in which literary creation and a concept of adoption as a form of creativity make available new ways of thinking about adoption and what it means to be human.

Underlying common beliefs about adoption, argues Margaret Homans, is the assumption that human qualities are innate and intrinsic, an assumption often held by adoptees and their families, sometimes at great emotional cost. This book explores representations of adoption—transracial, transnational, and domestic same-race adoption—that reimagine human possibility by questioning this assumption and conceiving of alternatives. The author explores a wide variety of works ranging from Silas Marner to Disney’s Mulan, including fiction, memoir, drama, documentary films, advice manuals, social science writing, and interviews, to shed light on these questions.

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Kin of Another Kind: Transracial Adoption in American Literature

Cynthia Callahan, University of Michigan Press, 2010

The subject of transracial adoption seems to be enjoying unprecedented media attention of late, particularly as white celebrities have made headlines by adopting children of color from overseas. But interest in transracial adoption is nothing new—it has long occupied a space in the public imagination, a space disproportionate with the number of people actually adopted across racial lines.

Even before World War II, when transracial adoption was neither legally nor socially sanctioned, American authors wrote about it, often depicting it as an “accident”—the result of racial ambiguity that prevented adopters from knowing who is white or black. After World War II, as the real-world practice of transracial and international adoption increased, American literary representations of it became an index not only of the changing cultural attitudes toward adoption as a way of creating families but also of the social issues that informed it and made it, at times, controversial.

Kin of Another Kind examines the appearance of transracial adoption in American literature at certain key moments from the turn of the twentieth century to the turn of the twenty-first to help understand its literary and social significance to authors and readers alike. In juxtaposing representations of African American, American Indian, and Korean and Chinese adoptions across racial (and national) lines, Kin of Another Kindtraces the metaphorical significance of adoption when it appears in fiction. At the same time, aligning these groups calls attention to their unique and divergent cultural histories with adoption, which serve as important contexts for the fiction discussed in this study.

The book explores the fiction of canonical authors such as William Faulkner and Toni Morrison and places it alongside lesser-known works by Robert E. Boles, Dallas Chief Eagle (Lakota), and Sui Sin Far that, when reconsidered, can advance our understanding both of adoption in literature and of twentieth-century American literature in general.

Kin of Another Kind will appeal to students and scholars in adoption in literature, American literature, and comparative multiethnic literatures. It adds to the growing body of work on adoption in literature, which focuses on orphancy and adoption in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States

Ellen Herman, University of Chicago Press, 2008

What constitutes a family? Tracing the dramatic evolution of Americans’ answer to this question over the past century, Kinship by Design provides the fullest account to date of modern adoption’s history.

Beginning in the early 1900s, when children were still transferred between households by a variety of unregulated private arrangements, Ellen Herman details efforts by the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America to establish adoption standards in law and practice. She goes on to trace Americans’ shifting ideas about matching children with physically or intellectually similar parents, revealing how research in developmental science and technology shaped adoption as it navigated the nature-nurture debate.

Concluding with an insightful analysis of the revolution that ushered in special needs, transracial, and international adoptions, Kinship by Design ultimately situates the practice as both a different way to make a family and a universal story about love, loss, identity, and belonging. In doing so, this volume provides a new vantage point from which to view twentieth-century America, revealing as much about social welfare, statecraft, and science as it does about childhood, family, and private life.

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Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama

Marianne Novy, University of Michigan Press, 2005

Reading Adoption explores the ways in which novels and plays portray adoption, probing the cultural fictions that these literary representations have perpetuated. Through careful readings of works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Barbara Kingsolver, Edward Albee and others, Marianne Novy reveals how fiction has contributed to general perceptions of adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents. She observes how these works address the question of what makes a parent, as she scrutinizes basic themes that repeat throughout, such as the difference between adoptive parents and children, the mirroring between adoptees and their birth parents, and the romanticization of the theme of lost family and recovered identity. Engagingly written from Novy’s dual perspectives as critic and adult adoptee, the book artfully combines the techniques of literary and feminist scholarship with memoir, and in doing so it sheds new light on familiar texts.

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The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930–1972 (Studies in Gender and History)

Karen Balcom, University of Toronto Press, 2011

Between 1930 and the mid-1970s, several thousand Canadian-born children were adopted by families in the United States. At times, adopting across the border was a strategy used to deliberately avoid professional oversight and take advantage of varying levels of regulation across states and provinces. The Traffic in Babies traces the efforts of Canadian and American child welfare leaders—with intermittent support from immigration officials, politicians, police, and criminal prosecutors—to build bridges between disconnected jurisdictions and control the flow of babies across the Canada-U.S. border.

Karen A. Balcom details the dramatic and sometimes tragic history of cross-border adoptions—from the Ideal Maternity Home case and the Alberta Babies-for-Export scandal to trans-racial adoptions of Aboriginal children. Exploring how and why babies were moved across borders, The Traffic in Babies is a fascinating look at how social workers and other policy makers tried to find the birth mothers, adopted children, and adoptive parents who disappeared into the spaces between child welfare and immigration laws in Canada and the United States.

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