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Whitman Noir

Black America and the Good Gray Poet

Ivy Wilson

Publication Year: 2014

Walt Whitman’s now-famous maxim about “containing the multitudes” has often been understood as a metaphor for the democratizing impulses of the young American nation. But did these impulses extend across the color line? Early in his career, especially in the manuscripts leading up to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the poet espoused a rather progressive outlook on race relations within the United States. However, as time passed, he steered away from issues of race and blackness altogether. These changing depictions and representations of African Americans in the poetic space of Leaves of Grass and Whitman’s other writings complicate his attempts to fully contain all of America’s subject-citizens within the national imaginary. As alluring as “containing the multitudes” might prove to be, African American poets and writers have been equally vexed by and attracted to Whitman’s acknowledgment of the promise and contradictions of the United States and their place within it.

Whitman Noir: Black America and the Good Gray Poet explores the meaning of blacks and blackness in Whitman’s imagination and, equally significant, also illuminates the aura of Whitman in African American letters from Langston Hughes to June Jordan, Margaret Walker to Yusef Komunyakaa. The essays, which feature academic scholars and poets alike, address questions of literary history, the textual interplay between author and narrator, and race and poetic influence. The volume as a whole reveals the mutual engagement with a matrix of shared ideas, contradictions, and languages to expose how Whitman influenced African American literary production as well as how African American Studies brings to bear new questions and concerns for evaluating Whitman.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Looking with a Queer Smile: Walt Whitman’s Gaze and Black America - Ivy G. Wilson

Ivy G. Wilson

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pp. vii-xx

In the summer of 1901 after they had returned to the South, James Weldon Johnson and his brother, Rosamond, hosted the most esteemed African American poet of the day—Paul Laurence Dunbar— in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. Dunbar had...

Part 1

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1. Erasing Race: The Lost Black Presence in Whitman’s Manuscripts - Ed Folsom

Ed Folsom

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pp. 3-31

A spectral black presence both haunts and energizes Walt Whitman’s work. Black presences that once were there or should be there finally aren’t. So much of what we can now say about Whitman and race comes not from what he published but from what he didn’t—from what we might call his “discarded writings” instead...

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2. The “Creole” Episode: Slavery and Temperance in Franklin Evans - Amina Gautier

Amina Gautier

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pp. 32-53

Midway through Walt Whitman’s temperance novel Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate (1842), the eponymous Franklin Evans finds himself traveling to Virginia on a journey that seemingly disrupts a narrative that has previously been mostly concerned with...

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3. Kindred Darkness: Whitman in New Orleans - Matt Sandler

Matt Sandler

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pp. 54-81

In early 1848 Walt Whitman traveled by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where he had found work as an editor for the New Orleans Daily Crescent. He arrived just after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which...

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4. Walt Whitman, James Weldon Johnson, and the Violent Paradox of US Progress - Christopher Freeburg

Christopher Freeburg

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pp. 82-103

C. L. R. James found himself possessed by Whitman’s “craving to mingle with all his fellow-men,” his rejection of standardized poetic forms, and his refusal merely to put the modern world in “individual terms.” In James’s eyes, Whitman bravely faces “the...

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5. Postwar America, Again - Ivy G. Wilson

Ivy G. Wilson

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pp. 104-123

In the wake of World War II, the Trinidadian intellectual C. L. R. James and the African American writer Ralph Ellison both turned to Walt Whitman in their respective examinations of the meanings of the United States. In James’s manuscript “Notes...

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6. Transforming the Kosmos: Yusef Komunyakaa Musing on Walt Whitman - Jacob Wilkenfeld

Jacob Wilkenfeld

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pp. 124-148

When the Public Broadcasting Service aired its American Experience documentary on Walt Whitman in 2008, three noted contemporary poets—Martín Espada, Billy Collins, and Yusef Komunyakaa—appeared on the program as interviewees and reciters...

Part 2

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7. For the Sake of People’s Poetry: Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us - June Jordan

June Jordan

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pp. 151-162

In America, the father is white; it is he who inaugurated the experiment of this republic. It is he who sailed his way into slave ownership and who availed himself of my mother—that African woman whose function was miserable—defined by his desirings, ...

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8. On Whitman, Civil War Memory, and My South - Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey

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pp. 163-171

A few years ago I was interviewed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution— a newspaper whose slogan used to be “Covering Dixie like the Dew”—and later, when the article appeared, the headline read, “Poet Digs at Secrets in Her South.” Not long...

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9. Whitman: Year One - Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

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pp. 172-178

As a child growing up in New York City I knew two Walt Whitmans. Each seemed large, impressive, and durable; but neither had much to do with poetry. This was a time in my life before I read poetry. And as brief as that time may have been, why deny it...

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Afterword: At Whitman’s Grave - George B. Hutchinson

George B. Hutchinson

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pp. 179-186

Eleanor Ray, the caretaker of Whitman’s home in Camden, showed me the piece of paper on which Whitman had contracted for the building of his tomb: New England granite from Quincy quarry, where, as a college student, I had learned rock-climbing...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 187-188

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 189-198

Contributors

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pp. 199-200

Index

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pp. 201-211

Further Reading

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p. 212-212


E-ISBN-13: 9781609382629
E-ISBN-10: 1609382625
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382360
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382366

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: paper
Series Title: Iowa Whitman Series
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth