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Chaotic Justice

Rethinking African American Literary History

John Ernest

Publication Year: 2009

What is African American about African American literature? Why identify it as a distinct tradition? John Ernest contends that too often scholars have relied on naïve concepts of race, superficial conceptions of African American history, and the marginalization of important strains of black scholarship. With this book, he creates a new and just retelling of African American literary history that neither ignores nor transcends racial history.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

A number of people have been especially helpful to me as I thought through the ideas and the readings that led to Chaotic Justice. In many ways, I have been working on this book for a number of years, but I finally set out to write it on the suggestion...

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INTRODUCTION: Loosed Canons: The Race for Literary History

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pp. 1-34

This book has been inspired by numerous conversations, conferences, articles, and books over the years, but basically it was sparked by my initial experience of reading and trying to understand Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892)...

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CHAPTER ONE: Representing Chaos and Reading Race

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pp. 35-74

In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois famously asserts that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line” (359). We are now past the twentieth century, and many scholars and other cultural commentators have argued that it is time for us to be past or get beyond or just get over the concept...

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CHAPTER TWO: Truth Stranger than Fiction: African American Identity and (Auto) Biography

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pp. 75-111

In his 1880 memoir, My Southern Home; or, The South and Its People, William Wells Brown begins with a note about his autobiographical reflections. The book’s “earlier incidents,” he explains, “were written out from the author’s recollections. The later sketches here given, are the results of recent visits to the South...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Shortest Point between Two Lines: Writing African Americans into American Literary History

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pp. 112-146

Some years ago, Eric J. Sundquist observed that “it remains difficult for many readers to overcome their fundamental conception of ‘American’ literature as solely Anglo-European in inspiration and authorship, to which may then be added...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Choreographing Chaos: African American Literature in Time and Space

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pp. 147-192

Henry Box Brown’s decision to conclude his 1851 Narrative by reprinting laws regulating slavery was not unique. Such reprintings frequently appear in slave narratives, antislavery newspapers, and such books as William Goodell’s...

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CHAPTER FIVE: The Story at the End of the Story: African American Literature and the Civil War

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pp. 193-241

When describing the conclusion of the Civil War in his last autobiography, and the apparent success of the cause, the “great labor of [his] life” with which he had been identified and that had provided him with a clearly defined public role, Frederick Douglass writes...

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CONCLUSION: Covenants and Communities: The Demands of African American Literature

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pp. 242-254

In an essay published originally in 1996, Mae G. Henderson explores the tensions between Black Studies (which emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and Black Cultural Studies (which appeared during the late 1980s and early 1990s)...


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pp. 255-274


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pp. 275-308


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pp. 309-316

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605074
E-ISBN-10: 1469605074
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833377
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833371

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 646872639
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chaotic Justice

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Criticism -- United States.
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