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A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism

Christopher Douglas

Publication Year: 2009

As an anthropology student studying with Franz Boas, Zora Neale Hurston recorded African American folklore in rural central Florida, studied hoodoo in New Orleans and voodoo in Haiti, talked with the last ex-slave to survive the Middle Passage, and collected music from Jamaica. Her ethnographic work would serve as the basis for her novels and other writings in which she shaped a vision of African American Southern rural folk culture articulated through an antiracist concept of culture championed by Boas: culture as plural, relative, and long-lived. Meanwhile, a very different antiracist model of culture learned from Robert Park's sociology allowed Richard Wright to imagine African American culture in terms of severed traditions, marginal consciousness, and generation gaps.

In A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism, Christopher Douglas uncovers the largely unacknowledged role played by ideas from sociology and anthropology in nourishing the politics and forms of minority writers from diverse backgrounds. Douglas divides the history of multicultural writing in the United States into three periods. The first, which spans the 1920s and 1930s, features minority writers such as Hurston and D'Arcy McNickle, who were indebted to the work of Boas and his attempts to detach culture from race.

The second period, from 1940 to the mid-1960s, was a time of assimilation and integration, as seen in the work of authors such as Richard Wright, Jade Snow Wong, John Okada, and Ralph Ellison, who were influenced by currents in sociological thought. The third period focuses on the writers we associate with contemporary literary multiculturalism, including Toni Morrison, N. Scott Momaday, Frank Chin, Ishmael Reed, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Douglas shows that these more recent writers advocated a literary nationalism that was based on a modified Boasian anthropology and that laid the pluralist grounds for our current conception of literary multiculturalism.

Ultimately, Douglas's "unified field theory" of multicultural literature brings together divergent African American, Asian American, Mexican American, and Native American literary traditions into one story: of how we moved from thinking about groups as races to thinking about groups as cultures-and then back again.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I began this book at Furman University, in Greenville, South Carolina, and finished it at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. I would like to thank colleagues at both institutions for their invaluable suggestions and encouragement, especially William Aarnes, Stanley Crowe, Vincent Hausmann, Nicholas Radel, ...

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Introduction: Multiculturalism’s Cultural Revolution

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pp. 1-20

A spectacular articulation of our current paradigm of multiculturalism comes at the end of Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible. Its occasion is a visit, by the three surviving and reunited Price sisters, to the royal palace at Abomey, the ancient seat of the kingdom of Dahomey, now a UNESCO world heritage site and a famous tourist attraction. ...

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Chapter 1. Zora Neale Hurston, D’Arcy McNickle, and the Culture of Anthropology

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pp. 21-59

Zora Neale Hurston was part of the paradigm shift from racial anthropology to cultural anthropology. In the spring of 1926, her caliper exercises in Harlem were part of the work of refuting racial thinking, for which Herskovits credits Hurston in his 1928 report The American Negro, and his 1930 study The Anthropometry of the American Negro.1 ...

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Chapter 2. Richard Wright, Robert Park, and the Literature of Sociology

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pp. 60-96

Hurston’s famous August 11, 1955, letter to the Orlando Sentinel is a strange document, at once an anticommunist screed and a diatribe against the NAACP and its legal accomplishments in overturning segregation (see Kaplan 738 – 40). At its heart, however, is really Hurston’s opposition to the element of Boas’s anthropology that Hurston rejected: ...

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Chapter 3. Jade Snow Wong, Ralph Ellison, and Desegregation

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pp. 97-127

Thus far I have concentrated on the African American literary tradition, with a brief foray into Native American letters represented by D’Arcy McNickle. My more substantial turn in this chapter and the next to the Asian American literary tradition requires some explanation. ...

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Chapter 4. John Okada and the Sociology of Internment

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pp. 128-157

“If we are children of America and not the sons and daughters of our parents, it is because you have failed.” Such is the “message of great truth” offered by a young sociologist on a visit, of all places, to an internment camp during World War II in John Okada’s No-No Boy (125). ...

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Chapter 5. Américo Paredes and the Folklore of the Border

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pp. 158-183

In the summer of 1954, Américo Paredes collected 363 ballads and other songs from the Mexican American communities of the Lower Border area in South Texas. Brown v. Board of Education was only weeks old—it had been announced on May 17th of that year. ...

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Chapter 6. Toni Morrison, Frank Chin, and Cultural Nationalisms, 1965–1975

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pp. 184-219

Américo Paredes’s anthropology was a residual formation during the integrationist second phase of racialized minority literature (1940–1965), but it also anticipated the turn to anthropology’s culture characteristic of the cultural nationalisms developed in the following decade, nationalisms that went on to lay the foundations for our current paradigm of literary multiculturalism. ...

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Chapter 7. N. Scott Momaday: Blood and Identity

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pp. 220-259

In N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, the Jemez Pueblo protagonist Abel returns to his grandfather’s home in Walatowa, New Mexico, from fighting in the European theater in the Second World War. It is July 1945. The war in Europe is over and the war in the Pacific approaching its end. ...

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Chapter 8. Ishmael Reed and the Search for Survivals

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pp. 260-285

Part of what was at stake for N. Scott Momaday’s work between 1967 and 1976, roughly coterminous with the cultural nationalism marking the first decade of the emerging paradigm of multiculturalism, was the problem of formulating a model for and substance of cultural continuity across many generations. ...

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Chapter 9. Gloria Anzaldúa, Aztlán, and Aztec Survivals

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pp. 286-306

Although Ma Kilman, “sibyl,” has not learned the names of the African gods who crossed the Atlantic with the enslaved Africans, she nonetheless carries their sound in “the rivers of her blood,” and it is through their continued presence in the Caribbean that she finds the cure for Philoctete’s wound, a metaphor in Walcott’s poem ...

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Conclusion: The Multicultural Complex and the Incoherence o fLiterary Multiculturalism

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pp. 307-326

In Imperceptible Mutabilities, the Naturalist sets loose some giant fake cockroaches, equipped with hidden cameras, in the kitchen of two African Americans. Gathering data about his subjects, he imagines the act of observation as itself invisible to his research group. ...


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pp. 327-344


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pp. 345-362


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pp. 363-372

E-ISBN-13: 9780801458521
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801447693

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1