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Desegregating Desire

Race and Sexuality in Cold War American Literature

Tyler T. Schmidt

Publication Year: 2013

A study of race and sexuality and their interdependencies in American literature from 1945 to 1955, Desegregating Desire examines the varied strategies used by eight American poets and novelists to integrate sexuality into their respective depictions of desegregated places and emergent identities in the aftermath of World War II. Focusing on both progressive and conventional forms of cross-race writing and interracial intimacy, the book is organized around four pairs of writers. Chapter one examines reimagined domestic places, and the ambivalent desires that define them, in the southern writing of Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston. The second chapter; focused on poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Edwin Denby, analyzes their representations of the postwar American city, representations which often transpose private desires into a public imaginary. Chapter three explores how insular racial communities in the novels of Ann Petry and William Demby were related to non-normative sexualities emerging in the early Cold War. The final chapter, focused on damaged desires, considers the ways that novelists Jo Sinclair and Carl Offord, relocate the public traumas of desegregation with the private spheres of homes and psyches.

Aligning close textual readings with the segregated histories and interracial artistic circles that informed these Cold War writers, this project defines desegregation as both a racial and sexual phenomenon, one both public and private. In analyzing more intimate spaces of desegregation shaped by regional, familial, and psychological upheavals after World War II, Tyler T. Schmidt argues that "queer" desire--understood as same-sex and interracial desire--redirected American writing and helped shape the Cold War era's integrationist politics.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-2

I have benefited immeasurably from the ruthless encouragement, intellectual talents, and creative nourishment of teachers, colleagues, and friends from the conception of this project to its completion. My teacher, mentor, and friend Robert Reid-Pharr continues to be an indispensable voice of critique and courage. I am most grateful to Wayne Koestenbaum, Steven Kruger, and...

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Introduction: The Half-Told Histories of Desegregation

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pp. 3-37

I always wander back to the scene in Ann Petry’s The Narrows when Camilo Sheffield visits, for the fifth time that week, The Last Chance, an ungenteel working-class bar in a black neighborhood of Monmouth, Connecticut. A figure of whiteness, marked by her blond hair, she sits among the judging eyes of the black men around the bar, quiet in its afternoon. Camilo, hungry...

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Ambivalent Desires: Elizabeth Bishop, Zora Neale Hurston, and Domestic Desegregation

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pp. 38-86

Describing the sublimation of racial and sexual shame as the “dark-town of our unconscious,” Lillian Smith in Killers of the Dream reminds us that desegregation in American literary culture is located in the interplay between physical spaces and psychological upheavals. Arguing that segregation must be read in relation to suppressed desires and taboo practices, Smith writes, “The lesson...

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War City: Gwendolyn Brooks, Edwin Denby, and the Private Poetics of Public Space

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pp. 87-0135

In the American cultural imagination, the northern city often represents the site of progressive social change, the coming together of urban dwellers across races, cultures, and languages in New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. The literary projects of Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston, despite textual excursions into New York, locate desegregationist desires within...

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White Pervert: William Demby, Ann Petry, and the Queer Desires of Racial Belonging

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pp. 136-178

The preceding chapter explored varied articulations of sexuality—queer abjection, the erotics of public space, and the intimate negotiations of marriage—by African American women and white homosexual men in American cities transformed by World War II. In exploring Gwendolyn Brooks’s poems and prose in which black women reimagine both domestic duty and...

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Damaged Desires: Jo Sinclair, Carl Offord, and the Traumas of Integration

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pp. 179-220

In a 1946 radio interview, Jewish novelist Jo Sinclair, assessing America’s social ills in the wake of World War II, explained, “I call them ghettos. There’s one named anti-Semitism and one called racial hatred. Any kind of segregation is a ghetto, whether it’s mental, spiritual or physical segregation, and of any group, religion or race. The largest ghetto is one of the mind” (Sidney...

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Conclusion: Intimate Failures

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pp. 221-228

Returning to America in 1957 to report on the expanding civil rights movement, James Baldwin confessed, “I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life” (“Take” 385). The dissonance...

Notes

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pp. 229-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-270

Index

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pp. 271-279


E-ISBN-13: 9781621039464
E-ISBN-10: 1621039463
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037832

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013