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South of Tradition

Essays on African American Literature

Trudier Harris-Lopez

Publication Year: 2002

With characteristic originality and insight, Trudier Harris-Lopez offers a new and challenging approach to the work of African American writers in these twelve previously unpublished essays. Collectively, the essays show the vibrancy of African American literary creation across several decades of the twentieth century. But Harris-Lopez's readings of the various texts deliberately diverge from traditional ways of viewing traditional topics.

South of Tradition focuses not only on well-known writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, but also on up-and-coming writers such as Randall Kenan and less-known writers such as Brent Wade and Henry Dumas. Harris-Lopez addresses themes of sexual and racial identity, reconceptualizations of and transcendence of Christianity, analyses of African American folk and cultural traditions, and issues of racial justice. Many of her subjects argue that geography shapes identity, whether that geography is the European territory many blacks escaped to from the oppressive South, or the South itself, where generations of African Americans have had to come to grips with their relationship to the land and its history. For Harris-Lopez, "south of tradition" refers both to geography and to readings of texts that are not in keeping with expected responses to the works. She explains her point of departure for the essays as "a slant, an angle, or a jolt below the line of what would be considered the norm for usual responses to African American literature."

The scope of Harris-Lopez's work is tremendous. From her coverage of noncanonical writers to her analysis of humor in the best-selling The Color Purple, she provides essential material that should inform all future readings of African American literature.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xv

Attempting to account for how one comes to a particular scholarly project is perhaps comparable to viewing one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings. You know there is a pattern there, but it reveals itself only upon intense reflection. The twelve essays included in this volume...

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ONE: Humor in Alice Walker’s: The Color Purple

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pp. 1-17

Repeated teachings of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) require constant vigilance in terms of what one offers students. Each return to the novel invites reevaluations and reexaminations of themes, approaches, structure, or whatever else may be highlighted upon additional readings...

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TWO: Slanting the Truth: Homosexuality, Manhood, and Race in James Baldwin’s: Giovanni’s Room

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pp. 18-30

In James Baldwin’s fiction, homosexuality can be a quagmire or a haven. For some characters, participation in homosexual acts is the pathway to acquiring a copyright on manhood; for others, it is the road to losing that status forever...

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THREE: New Invisible Man: Revisiting a Nightmare in the 1990s (Brent Wade’s Company Man and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man)

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pp. 31-50

In the 1990s, African American writers broke down more and more barriers to their creativity. This was especially true of depictions of insanity and homosexuality, against which there seemed to have been particular taboos historically...

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FOUR: Zapping the Editor, Or, How to Tell Censors to Kiss Off without Really Trying: Zora Neale Hurston’s Fights with Authority Figures in Dust Tracks on a Road

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pp. 51-67

Zora Neale Hurston published Dust Tracks on a Road in 1942. The publication was more a directive than a desire. Bertram Lippincott had used his publishing prerogative in requesting that Hurston fall in line with the prevailing “colored person tells all” syndrome...

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FIVE: Architecture as Destiny? Women and Survival Strategies in Ann Petry’s: The Street

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pp. 68-90

In The Street (1946), Ann Petry anticipates Toni Morrison in that her fictionalworld is one in which houses and apartments play as significant a role in the construction of female character and the shaping of destiny as 7 Carpenter’s Road...

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SIX: Chocklit Geography: Raymond Andrews’s Mythical South

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pp. 91-120

Scholars who had come to know Raymond Andrews in the eight or ten years before his death and who were instrumental in inspiring new critical interest in his work were understandably puzzled and saddened when he committed suicide near Athens, Georgia, in the fall of 1991...

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SEVEN: The Necessary Binding: Prison Experiences in Three August Wilson Plays

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pp. 121-139

Given the fact that their encounters with the legal system have been so extensive and unpleasant, it is probably a historical truism that the majority of African American men would not find such encounters to be happy occurrences...

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EIGHT: Hands beyond the Grave: Henry Dumas’s Influence on Toni Morrison

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pp. 140-148

When Beloved made her appearance at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1987, Henry Dumas had been dead for nineteen years. Readers, teachers, and scholars praised Morrison’s creation of the story surrounding a ghost child’s return to her mother...

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NINE: Salting the Land but Not the Imagination: William Melvin Kelley’s: A Different Drummer

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pp. 149-159

Various fictional works that depict parts of the American South depend for their landscape upon completely imagined territories that the authors have created out of whole cloth. Gloria Naylor has her Willow Springs, a mythical island off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia...

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TEN: Transformations of the Land in Randall Kenan’s “The Foundations of the Earth”

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pp. 160-174

Randall Kenan has made the tiny, imaginary town of Tims Creek, North Carolina, the site for focus in A Visitation of Spirits (1989) as well as in the short stories collected in Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (1992). On the surface, Tims Creek is a very traditional southern community...

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ELEVEN: Expectations Too Great: The Failure of Racial Calling in Ralph Ellison’s: Juneteenth

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pp. 175-195

In a television documentary about George Wallace, aired in 2000, several interviewees commented on the fact that Wallace was a reasonably progressive man before he first ran for public office in Alabama. Upon his first attempt to get elected, when he was beaten soundly...

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TWELVE: Ugly Legacies of the Harlem Renaissance and Earlier: Soul Food and New Negroes

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pp. 196-216

Soul Food is a movie much praised by a variety of viewers, especially African Americans. When it was released in 1997, I discovered that my reaction to it was strikingly unlike that of many of my African American friends and colleagues...


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pp. 217-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780820327150
E-ISBN-10: 0820327158
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820324333
Print-ISBN-10: 0820324337

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 658204878
MUSE Marc Record: Download for South of Tradition

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
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