Cover

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Half Title, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

I am thankful to the contributors to this collection who, through their distinct lines of critical inquiry, have taught me new things about James Weldon Johnson, his writing, and our shared endeavors as scholars, authors, and educators. Our work in this volume rests on the rigorous and lasting scholarship of too many authors to name. ...

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Introduction: Biography of an Author, Biography of a Text: James Weldon Johnson’s Ultimate American Work

Noelle Morrissette

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pp. 1-20

When James Weldon Johnson wrote these words, he possessed not only the hindsight of sixty-two years in America but a carefully considered knowledge of centuries of New World blacks. His knowledge was familial and represented an expansive geography, based on his mother’s Bahamian and Haitian heritage and his father’s experiences as a free black man ...

Part One: Cultures of Reading, Cultures of Writing: Canons and Authenticity

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“Stepping across the Confines of Language and Race”: Brander Matthews, James Weldon Johnson, and Racial Cosmopolitanism

Lawrence J. Oliver

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pp. 23-40

In his autobiography, Along This Way, James Weldon Johnson relates that after he moved from Jacksonville to New York City in 1902, intent on making his career as a songwriter with his brother, Rosamond, and Bob Cole, he began taking literature classes at Columbia University (then Columbia College) from Brander Matthews (1852–1929), ...

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How The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man Became an Unlikely Literary Classic

Michael Nowlin

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pp. 41-63

In the first major interview he gave after winning the National Book Award for Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison was asked whether he thought his novel would still be around in twenty years. “I doubt it,” he answered. “It’s not an important novel. I failed of eloquence, and many of the immediate issues are rapidly fading away. ..

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Authenticity and Transparency in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Jeff Karem

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pp. 64-84

Critical discussions of authenticity in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man have been curiously bounded by either the text’s complex provenance or the putative cultural (in)authenticity of the title character. The novel’s initial reception as a genuine autobiography has made the text a touchstone for debates about African American authorship, genre, ...

Part Two: Relational Tropes: Transnationalism, Futurity, and the Ex-Colored Man

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The Futurity of Miscegenation: James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood

Diana Paulin

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pp. 87-111

Although both Hopkins’s Of One Blood (1902–3) and Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) are now considered canonical African American literary texts, they have been examined most extensively in terms of their contributions to African American literary representation, including their excavations of the undocumented past and their complex depictions of self-discovery, ...

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Blackness Written, Erased, Rewritten: James Weldon Johnson, Teju Cole, and the Palimpsest of Modernity

Daphne Lamothe

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pp. 112-127

One hundred years separate the publications of James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and Teju Cole’s Open City (2012), compelling me to ask if these novels can speak to each other across the span of time and, if so, what meanings they reveal to readers about the similarities and differences between the modernist New Negro era ...

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Dead Ambitions and Repeated Interruptions: Economies of Race and Temporality in The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man

Bruce Barnhart

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pp. 128-144

At a particularly important moment in his life, the narrator of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man finds himself on the receiving end of some rather bleak advice. In an attempt to discourage the narrator from returning to the United States, his wealthy patron tells him: “to attempt to right the wrongs and ease the sufferings of the world in general is a waste of effort. ...

Part Three: Poetics: Sound, Affect, and The Archive

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The Autobiography as Ars Poetica: Satire and Rhythmic Exegesis in “Saint Peter Relates an Incident”

Ben Glaser

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pp. 147-168

In a survey of 1935’s black literature for Opportunity magazine, Alain Locke develops a criterion for black poetry that may seem surprising: not James Weldon Johnson’s famous call for “symbols from within” comparable to the achievement of Synge and Yeats, not a call for native rhythms and folk forms, and not Langston Hughes’s turn to the “eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul— ...

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The Composer versus the “Perfessor”: Writing Race and (Rag)Time

Lori Brooks

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pp. 169-188

In the sixth chapter of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, the protagonist arrives starry-eyed in New York City and offers an account of its black nightlife, including his first encounter with ragtime music: “the stout man at the piano began to run his fingers up and down the keyboard. This he did in a manner that indicated that he was a master of a good deal of technique. ...

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James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Archived and Live

Noelle Morrissette

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pp. 189-210

On June 3, 1886, a young James Johnson received an award recognizing his “general proficiency, regular attendance and good conduct” in “Eighth Grade Jacksonville Graded School.” Stanton School, Jacksonville, was the city’s grade school for African Americans; Johnson’s prize was The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.1 ...

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Part Four: Legacies

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pp. 211-212

In the following essay, Robert Stepto returns to his pathbreaking monograph of African American narrative traditions, From behind the Veil (1979), which firmly established the major tropes of racial literacy, ascent and immersion, and authorial control in works by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American authors. ...

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W. E. B. Du Bois, Barack Obama, and the Search for Race: School House Blues

Robert B. Stepto

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pp. 213-229

The schoolhouse episode is a staple event in African American narratives no doubt because it is remembered or imagined as a formative first scene of racial self-awareness. It is not a moment when race is adopted—that may come later; it is instead a moment when race is imposed. The episode may involve a graduation exercise, with all the attendant questions regarding what, exactly, is commencing. ...

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Afterword: The Ex-Colored Man for a New Century

Noelle Morrissette, Amritjit Singh

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pp. 230-238

James Weldon Johnson, who thought of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man as a living, moving work—a “biography of the race”—no doubt would have had much to add to his novel as he viewed more than a century of African American experiences following its publication. The novel has proven prescient in the way it anticipated the ongoing story of African American life. ...

Suggested Further Reading

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pp. 239-242

Contributors

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pp. 243-244

Index

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pp. 245-248