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Black Writers, White Publishers

Marketplace Politics in Twentieth- Century African American Literature

Publication Year: 2006

Jean Toomer's Cane was advertised as "a book about Negroes by a Negro," despite his request not to promote the book along such racial lines. Nella Larsen switched the title of her second novel from Nig to Passing, because an editor felt the original title "might be too inflammatory." In order to publish his first novel as a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection Richard Wright deleted a scene in Native Son depicting Bigger Thomas masturbating. Toni Morrison changed the last word of Beloved at her editor's request and switched the title of Paradise from War to allay her publisher's marketing concerns. Although many editors place demands on their authors, these examples invite special scholarly attention given the power imbalance between white editors and publishers and African American authors. Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics in Twentieth-Century African American Literature examines the complex negotiations behind the production of African American literature. In chapters on Larsen's Passing, Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Gwendolyn Brooks's Children Coming Home, Morrison's "Oprah's Book Club" selections, and Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, John K. Young presents the first book-length application of editorial theory to African American literature. Focusing on the manuscripts, drafts, book covers, colophons, and advertisements that trace book production, Young expands upon the concept of socialized authorship and demonstrates how the study of publishing history and practice and African American literary criticism enrich each other. John K. Young is an associate professor of English at Marshall University. His work has appeared in journals such as College English, African American Review, and Critique.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

Contemporary editorial theory holds authorship to be a fundamentally social process, and I have learned just how true that idea is in the course of producing this book. Beginning with my intellectual debts, I am grateful for the insightful comments on an early version of chapter 4 provided by my graduate colleagues at Northwestern University, especially Barbara Baumgartner...

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INTRODUCTION: Real Fictions of Race and Textuality

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pp. 3-36

Boni and Liveright advertised Cane (1923) as “a book about Negroes by a Negro,” despite Jean Toomer’s express request not to promote the book along such racial lines (Larson 25; Toomer 157). Nella Larsen agreed to switch the title of her second novel from Nig to Passing (1929) because an editor at Knopf felt the original title “might be too inflammatory for a novel...

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CHAPTER ONE: PASSING (ON) TEXTUAL HISTORY: The Ends of Nella Larsen’s Passing

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pp. 37-64

Nella Larsen’s Passing has become one of the most widely read New Negro Renaissance novels in recent years, but no one really knows how it ends. By this I do not mean that critics have not determined how much guilt to assign Irene Redfield in Clare Kendry’s fatal fall, or to what extent the narrative is actually a lesbian story “passing” as a racial one. I mean the ending...

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CHAPTER TWO: BLACK PAGE, WHITE COPYRIGHT: The Politics of Print in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo

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pp. 65-93

In Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Ishmael Reed implicitly parallels the New Negro and Black Arts movements, two brief periods in literary history which witnessed both collaborative and uneasy exchanges between white publishing houses and black authors. Just as Larsen occupied a sometimes tenuous relationship with...

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pp. 94-118

In 1967, Gwendolyn Brooks famously became a black nationalist poet. At a Fisk University conference, Brooks explained to Claudia Tate, she encountered poets who “felt that black poets should write as blacks, about blacks, and address themselves to blacks” (40, original emphasis). Brooks had published her first six books with Harper and Brothers (later Harper and Row):...

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pp. 119-149

In June 2003, Oprah Winfrey launched her television book club anew, with John Steinbeck’s East of Eden as the first selection. Paperback copies of the fifty-one-year-old novel immediately appeared in bookstores nationwide (they had been held in sealed cartons until Winfrey’s official announcement), with wrappers around the front cover declaring it “The Book That...

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pp. 150-182

Juneteenth is a fragment that passes for a novel. Its first edition includes 380 pages of text,with introduction, notes, and an afterword, all elegantly printed on thick, ragged-edge paper. The front jacket presents Ellison’s name in large brown capitals, above the title in smaller white letters, and, in smaller white letters still, the legends “A Novel” below the title and “by the author of...

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CONCLUSION: Race, History, and Editorial Ethics

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pp. 183-193

In the December 1945 issue of Negro Digest, Zora Neale Hurston published a bitingly satirical article entitled “Crazy for This Democracy,” in which she wonders if she has misunderstood Franklin D. Roosevelt referring to the “arse-and-all” of American democracy “when I thought he said plain arsenal?”...


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pp. 195-207


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pp. 208-220


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pp. 221-230

E-ISBN-13: 9781604735499
E-ISBN-10: 160473549X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578068463
Print-ISBN-10: 1578068460

Publication Year: 2006