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The Contemporary African American Novel

Its Folk Roots and Modern Literary Branches

Bernard W. Bell

Publication Year: 2004

In 1987 Bernard W. Bell published The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition, a comprehensive interpretive history of more than 150 novels written by African Americans from 1853 to 1983. The book won the Distinguished Scholarship Award of the College Language Association and was reprinted five times. Now Bell has produced a new volume that serves as a sequel and companion to the earlier work, expanding the coverage to 2001. Bell also refines and extends his interpretive model for reading texts by African American writers, a model based on the vernacular forms of expression of his childhood, the literary theories of Ralph Ellison, and the writings on double-consciousness of W.E.B. Du Bois. The book begins with a personal essay in which Bell traces the evolution of his thinking about sociohistorical and sociocultural approaches to literature. He goes on to apply these approaches to the work of hundreds of black novelists whose work has been published since 1853. His primary focus, however, is on some forty novels and romances published between 1983 and 2001, including works by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Albert Murray, Gloria Naylor, Al Young, David Bradley, Leon Forrest, and Charles Johnson, as well as the neo-Black Aesthetic novelists Nathaniel Mackey, Trey Ellis, Percival L. Everett, and Colson Whitehead. In acknowledging the diversity of the tradition of the novel, Bell also examines the science fiction of Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, the gay novels of E. Lynn Harris, Larry Duplechan, and Randall Kenan, and the detective narratives of Barbara Neely and Walter Mosley. The result is a book of impressive scope and accomplishment—an essential work for any serious student of African American literature.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iv-v


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pp. vii-x

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Memoir: On Becoming an African American Scholar Activist

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pp. xi-xxviii

EVERYTHING now, we must assume, is in our hands,"African American gay novelist, playwright, and essayist James Baldwin reminded us in the biblical and black spiritual jeremiad at the end of The Fire Next Time (1963); "we have no right to assume otherwise. If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious...

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pp. 1-8

THE Contemporary African American Novel: Its Folk Roots and Modern Literary Branches is a sociohistorical, sociocultural, and sociopsychological critical history of the contemporary African American novel as a socially symbolic act of cultural politics and narrative discourse. The strategic essentialism and oppositional discourse for interpreting African...

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1 / Mapping the Rhetoric, Politics, and Poetics of Representation in the Contemporary African American Novel

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pp. 9-58

IF it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, then it must be a duck. This well-known folksaying, with its focus on knowledge acquired by perceptions of the bodies and behavior of others, is true on one level for many people. But as demonstrated by RuPaul, the successful black drag queen talk-show host; by Chester Himes, the social and sexual...

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2 / The Roots of the Contemporary African American Novel

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pp. 59-93

THE quest of early African American novelists to define, chronicle, and celebrate imaginatively the experiences of black people in the United States was influenced by the impact of societal and ideological anti-black racism on the development of their distinctive hybrid culture and double consciousness. This chapter will therefore survey the sociohistorical, sociocultural, and sociopsychological landscape of the double consciousness of...

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3 / Mapping the Peaks and Valleys of the African American Novel (1853-1962)

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pp. 94-129

IN contrast to The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition, which closely examines the symbolic and vernacular patterns of selected novels published between 1853 and 1962, this chapter will primarily map the peaks and valleys of the tradition of the African American novel and highlight its different branches during this time. The first third of the chapter includes the...

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4 / Forms of Neorealism: Critical and Poetic Realism (1962-1983)

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pp. 130-185

REBELLION or revolution--that was the burning question of the 1960s. Whether the cry was "We Shall Overcome," "Power to the people!" or "Burn, baby, burn!" black and white voices were raised in protest against racism, poverty, war, corruption, and sexism. Many Americans were deeply disillusioned by the moral bankruptcy of their...

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5 / Modernism and Postmodernism (1962-1983)

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pp. 186-249

SPEAKING at Gettysburg during the centennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "Until justice is blind, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."1 Two years after his succession to the presidency...

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6 / Continuity and Change in Ethnic Tropes of Identity Formation (1983-2001)

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pp. 250-300

BETWEEN 1983 and 2001 African Americans continued their dynamic, dialectic role as agents for change in the identity formation of ethnic Americans and other people around the globe.1 Although the predominantly middle-class and middle-aged NAACP leadership was deeply divided by ideological, economic, and generational differences over the...

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7 / The New Black Aesthetic: Eurocentric Metafiction and African Americentric Tropes of Transcultural Identity and Community (1983-2001)

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pp. 301-332

THE national census of 2000 confirms the growing potential power shift in the demographics of the United States to immigrants and native-born people generally called Latinos (i.e., citizens and non-citizens from North, Central, and South American nations of Spanish and various ethnic mixtures) as the largest ethnic political coalition in the nation.

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8 / Contemporary African American Paraliterature: Science/Speculative Fiction, Gay/Lesbian, and Detective/Mystery Novels and Romances (1983-2001)

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pp. 333-382

THE 1980s and 1990s marked a renaissance in the tradition of the African American novel. On one hand, we witnessed the extraordinary critical success of Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison for their experiments with nonrepresentational modernism and antirepresentational postmodernism.1 On the other hand, with...

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pp. 383-388

STORYTELLING is nearly as old and fundamental to our human identity as life itself. Historically, the human quest of peoples around the globe to tell their own stories and sing their own songs is consistent with their desire to affirm the importance of the relationship between language, knowledge, and power in personal and collective self-determination...


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pp. 389-427

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 429-461

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 463-490

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760673
E-ISBN-10: 1613760671
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558494725
Print-ISBN-10: 1558494723

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 794701593
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Contemporary African American Novel

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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Folklore in literature.
  • Literature and folklore -- United States.
  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans -- Folklore.
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