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Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism

Suzanne Lacascade, Marita Bonner, Suzanne Césaire, Dorothy West

Jennifer M. Wilks

Publication Year: 2008

Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism revives and critiques four African American and Francophone Caribbean women writers sometimes overlooked in discussions of early-twentieth-century literature: Guadeloupean Suzanne Lacascade (dates unknown), African American Marita Bonner (1899–1971), Martinican Suzanne Césaire (1913–1966), and African American Dorothy West (1907–1998). Reexamining their most significant work, Jennifer M. Wilks demonstrates how their writing challenges prevailing racial archetypes—such as the New Negro and the Negritude hero—of the period from the 1920s to the 1940s, and explores how these writers tapped into modernist currents from expressionism to surrealism to produce progressive treatments of race, gender, and nation that differed from those of currently canonized black writers of the era, the great majority of whom are men. Wilks begins with Lacascade, whom she deems "best known for being unknown," reading Lacascade's novel Claire-Solange, âme africaine (1924) as a protofeminist, proto-Negritude articulation of Caribbean identity. She then examines the fissures left unexplored in New Negro visions of African American community by showing the ways in which Bonner's essays, plays, and short stories highlight issues of economic class. Césaire applied the ideas and techniques of surrealism to the French language, and Wilks reveals how her writings in the journal Tropiques (1941-45) directly and insightfully engage the intellectual influences that informed the work of canonical Negritude. Wilks' close reading of West's The Living Is Easy (1948) provides a retrospective critique of the forces that continued to circumscribe women's lives in the midst of the social and cultural awakening presumably embodied in the New Negro. To show how the black literary tradition has continued to confront the conflation of gender roles with social and literary conventions, Wilks examines these writers alongside the late twentieth-century writings of Maryse Condé and Toni Morrison. Unlike many literary analysts, Wilks does not bring together the four writers based on geography. Lacascade and Césaire came from different Caribbean islands, and though Bonner and West were from the United States, they never crossed paths. In considering this eclectic group of women writers together, Wilks reveals the analytical possibilities opened up by comparing works influenced by multiple intellectual traditions.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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pp. ix-x

However much its pages evoke the solitude experienced by many a modernist, I am well aware that this book would not exist had I truly been working . . .

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Introduction: Model Modernity

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pp. 1-25

If the narrative of comparative Ameri can modernity begins with wandering Italian men in the form of Christopher Columbus, it also begins with the character of . . .

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1. A Dying Exoticism: The Enigmatic Fiction of Suzanne Lacascade

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pp. 26-67

When Claire-Solange, âme africaine was published in 1924, the novel allegedly created such a stir that its author, Guadeloupean writer Suzanne Lacascade, was forced to . . .

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2. The Limits of Exemplarity: Marita Bonner’s Alternative Modernist Landscapes

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pp. 68-106

As detailed as Suzanne Lacascade’s is vague, the biography of Marita Bonner (1899–1971) reads as a virtual primer of New Negro success. Her personal history positions . . .

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3. Surrealist Dreams, Martinican Realities: The Negritude of Suzanne Césaire

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pp. 107-140

The year after Marita Bonner receded from public life, Martinican writer Suzanne Césaire (1915–66) took up the cause of cultural revolution in the 1942 essay . . .

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4. Black Modernism in Retrospect: Dorothy West’s New (Negro) Women

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pp. 141-175

The Living Is Easy (1948), the first novel by African American writer Dorothy West (1907–98), seems an unlikely successor to the militant, controlled prose of Suzanne . . .

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Conclusion: Atypical Women Revisited

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pp. 176-198

As I began my examination of comparative black modernism with the inclusion of atypical women Miranda, Défilée, and Anna Julia Cooper, so I will conclude . . .


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pp. 199-229


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pp. 231-245


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pp. 247-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134870
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133644

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008