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The Ethics of Swagger

Prizewinning African American Novels, 1977-1993

Michael DeRell Hill

Publication Year: 2013

After World War II and well beyond the Black Arts Movement, African American novelists struggled with white literary expectations imposed upon them. Aesthetics as varied as New Criticism and Deconstruction fueled these struggles, and black writers—facing these struggles— experienced an ethical crisis. Analyzing prizewinning, creative fellowship, and artistic style, this book considers what factors ended that crisis. The Ethics of Swagger explores how novelists who won major prizes between 1977 and 1993 helped move authors of black fiction through insecurity toward autonomy. Identifying these prizewinners—David Bradley, Ernest Gaines, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, and John Edgar Wideman—as a literary class, this book focuses on how they achieved imaginative freedom, recovered black literary traditions, and advanced the academic study of African American writing. The post–Civil Rights era produced the most accomplished group of novelists in black literary history. As these authors worked in an integrating society, they subjected white narrative techniques to the golden mean of black cultural mores. This exposure compelled the mainstream to acknowledge fresh talent and prodded American society to honor its democratic convictions. Shaping national dialogues about merit, award-winning novelists from 1977 to 1993, the Black Archivists, used swagger to alter the options for black art and citizenship.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-ix

This book proves that insight demands both conspicuous and invisible collaborations. While the list will never be complete, I would like to acknowledge some folks who kept the faith. ...

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Introduction: A New Attitude

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pp. 1-21

Upon being asked whether she experienced “a sense of triumph” when she received the Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison replied, “I felt the way I used to feel at commencements where I’d get an honorary degree: that it was very important for young black people to see a black person do that, that there were probably young people . . . who weren’t quite sure that ...


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Beloved and Black Prizewinning

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pp. 25-46

In the twenty-first century, Toni Morrison’s lofty stature seems almost preordained. Her writing epitomizes serious fiction, and she is that rarity, a black literary celebrity. Although her popularity remains high, her career inspires dissent. Some critics extol her as innovative while others dismiss her as imitative. If this disagreement, given the subjectivity of ...

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Authorized Mentors

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pp. 47-69

All of the Black Archivists endure the scrutiny of awards committees, but most explore white influences on black art via other themes. Alice Walker and Charles Johnson offer such explorations in The Color Purple’s and Middle Passage’s accounts of mentorship. Like many African Americans who attended college in the 1960s, these writers’ most significant ...

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A Lesson Before Dying as Style Guide

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pp. 70-89

Literary prizes and mentors reveal the diverse ways that white expectations challenge an ethics of swagger. Where the former exemplifies impersonal intrusion, the latter features intimate coercions. Thus, white authority conditions black writing both publicly and privately. If the Black Archivists confronted this conditioning through prize-granting and ...


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One to Write On

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pp. 93-119

The Black Archivists’ struggles with white expectations are not about cataloging prejudice; rather, they are meditations on the prospects for democratic pluralism.1 Just as these meditations focus on white authority, they also explore black traditions. Gloria Naylor and Toni Morrison ...

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Hunting Inheritance in Song of Solomon and The Chaneysville Incident

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pp. 120-143

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident consider what one successful black generation bequeaths to the next. Since such bequeathing cements status, these books contrast the defeat and even the murky hopefulness portrayed in other texts in this study. ...

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Measured Achievement

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pp. 144-164

Critics of the African American novel rightly emphasize its successes, but this tradition also includes defining moments of failure. With the recent appearance of Three Days Before the Shooting (2010), Ralph Ellison’s second novel, the literary world returned to one of the most discussed failures in the African American canon. Among the Black Archivists, David ...

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Swagger’s Afterlife

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pp. 165-171

As a cohort, the Black Archivists possess excellent balance. They were all born between 1931 and 1950; thus, the life experiences of the oldest and the youngest members are separated by a generation.1 Age is not the only factor that produces this group’s diversity. One writer spends her childhood in the South and another splits his formative years between ...


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pp. 173-184


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pp. 185-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270127
E-ISBN-10: 0814270123
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212141
Print-ISBN-10: 081421214X

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013