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Each Hour Redeem

Time and Justice in African American Literature

Daylanne K. English

Publication Year: 2013

Each Hour Redeem advances a major reinterpretation of African American literature from the late eighteenth century to the present by demonstrating how its authors are centrally concerned with racially different experiences of time. Daylanne K. English argues that, from Phillis Wheatley to Suzan-Lori Parks, African American writers have depicted distinctive forms of temporality to challenge racial injustices supported by dominant ideas of time. The first book to explore the representation of time throughout the African American literary canon, Each Hour Redeem illuminates how the pervasive and potent tropes of timekeeping provide the basis for an overarching new understanding of the tradition.

Combing literary, historical, legal, and philosophical approaches, Each Hour Redeem examines a wide range of genres, including poetry, fiction, drama, slave narratives, and other forms of nonfiction. English shows that much of African American literature is characterized by “strategic anachronism,” the use of prior literary forms to investigate contemporary political realities, as seen in Walter Mosley’s recent turn to hard-boiled detective fiction. By contrast, “strategic presentism” is exemplified in the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance and their investment in contemporary political potentialities, for example, in Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka’s adaptation of the jazz of their eras for poetic form and content. Overall, the book effectively demonstrates how African American writers have employed multiple and complex conceptions of time not only to trace racial injustice but also to help construct a powerful literary tradition across the centuries.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I am deeply grateful to colleagues and friends who made this book possible. First, I thank Michelle Wright and Rod Ferguson; their delightful friendship and steadfast intellectual companionship have made not just this project, but the last decade so much better than it ever could have been without them. ...

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Introduction: Political Fictions

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pp. 1-24

This book demonstrates that, across genre and era, African American writers have disclosed and explored the complex and high philosophical and material stakes inherent in time and its measure. They have long understood that time, justice, and the written word are deeply intertwined— ...

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Chapter 1: Ticking, Not Talking: Timekeeping in Early African American Literature

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pp. 25-46

With little controversy, African American literature has conventionally been understood as following a distinct timeline, as possessing its own literary genealogy and history. The towering Norton Anthology of African American Literature, with its explicit aims “to make available in one representative anthology the major texts ...

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Chapter 2: “Temporal Damage”: Pragmatism and Plessy in African American Novels, 1896–1902

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pp. 47-79

In 1853 when William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, believed to be the first African American–authored novel, was published, black people in the United States—regardless of region, class, free or slave status, or skin tone—could be fully African American only in fiction. ...

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Chapter 3: “The Death of the Last Black Man”: Repetition, Lynching, and Capital Punishment in Twentieth-Century African American Literature

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pp. 80-102

W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903) bridges the gap between the despair of many late nineteenth-century African American novels and the relative optimism of the Harlem Renaissance. Looking to the past in order to understand—and to the future in order to exceed—a dire present, ...

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Chapter 4: “Seize the Time!” Strategic Presentism in the Black Arts Movement

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pp. 103-128

That many black thinkers from the late 1950s through the early 1970s were preoccupied by time and philosophies of time is highlighted by the formation of the Dasein Literary Society, a circle of black writers originally based at Howard University. The group started forming as early as 1958; they published a literary journal, also called Dasein, from 1961 through 1973.1 ...

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Chapter 5: Being Black There: Contemporary African American Detective Fiction

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pp. 129-157

Since 1990, Walter Mosley, Barbara Neely, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Anthony Gar Haywood, Nichelle Tramble, and Valerie Wilson Wesley, among a number of other African American authors, have chosen to write not just one detective novel but a series of detective novels. ...

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Conclusion: Political Truths

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pp. 158-170

Despite the clear centrality of time in the African American literary tradition, it has remained relatively neglected as a category of analysis. To my knowledge there has been only one other book-length study of time in relation to black writing, Bonnie J. Barthold’s groundbreaking Black Time: Fiction of Africa, Caribbean, and the United States (1981).1 ...


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pp. 171-196


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pp. 197-218


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pp. 219-230

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About the Author

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pp. 240-241

Daylanne K. English is associate professor of English at Macalester College. She is the author of Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.

E-ISBN-13: 9781452939445
E-ISBN-10: 1452939446
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679904

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013