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Bearing Witness to African American Literature

Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency

Bernard W. Bell

Publication Year: 2012

Bearing Witness to African American Literature: Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency collects twenty-three of Bernard W. Bell’s lectures and essays that were first presented between 1968 and 2008. From his role in the culture wars as a graduate student activist in the Black Studies Movement to his work in the transcultural Globalization Movement as an international scholar and Fulbright cultural ambassador in Spain, Portugal, and China, Bell’s long and inspiring journey traces the modern institutional origins and the contemporary challengers of African American literary studies. This volume is made up of five sections, including chapters on W. E. B. DuBois’s theory and trope of double consciousness, an original theory of residually oral forms for reading the African American novel, an argument for an African Americentric vernacular and literary tradition, and a deconstruction of the myths of the American melting pot and literary mainstream. Bell considers texts by contemporary writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, William Styron, James Baldwin, and Jean Toomer, as well as works by Mark Twain, Frederick Douglas, and William Faulkner, In a style that ranges from lyricism to the classic jeremiad, Bell emphasizes that his work bears the imprint of many major influences, including his mentor, poet and scholar Sterling A. Brown, and W. E. B. DuBois. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate Bell’s central place as a revisionist African American literary and cultural theorist, historian, and critic. Bearing Witness to African American Literature will be an invaluable introduction to major issues in the African American literary tradition for scholars of American, African American, and cultural studies.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: African American Life Series


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Preface: Every Tongue Got to Confess

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pp. vii-x

While the origins of our genetic cousins in Africa and the lessons of our genealogical African ancestors remind us that “I am because we are, and since we are therefore I am” (Hord and Lee 8), the resilience, resourcefulness, and . . .

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pp. 1-23

“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 . . .

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1. Double Consciousness as the Sign of African American Difference

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pp. 25-71

“The legend has it,” says an African American contemporary celebrant of Jubilee, “that a Negro got a mule in Washington and arrived in [each?] town on June 19th with the Emancipation Proclamation. So that July 4th is whites’ . . .

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2. The Roots and Branches of the African American Literary Tradition

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pp. 73-148

“Anyone who analyzes black literature,” writes literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., “must do so as a comparativist [. . .] because our canonical texts have complex double formal antecedents, the Western and the black” . . .

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3. Modern and Contemporary African American Vernacular and Literary Voices

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pp. 149-184

If trouble was money, to borrow a line from bluesman Albert Collins, the black folks in John Edgar Wideman’s latest novel would be millionaires. Two Cities is a compelling culmination of the theme of contemporary black urban male . . .

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4. Womanist African American Vernacular and Literary Voices

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pp. 185-238

The novels of Ann Petry have been overshadowed and her talent misrepresented by their frequent comparison to the fiction and achievement of Richard Wright and Chester Himes. Robert Bone, for example, claims that . . .

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5. Bearing Witness to the Changing Same: Representations of Black American Identity in American and African American Literature

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pp. 239-307

Back during the days before the brothers on the block began singing “I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the street with James Brown and before the sisters in the storefront church began bearing witness from the amen corner to . . .

Works Cited

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pp. 309-321


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pp. 323-341

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814337158
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814337141

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: African American Life Series