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Literature > American Literature > African American Literature

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Amistad Revolt Cover

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Amistad Revolt

Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie

From journalism and lectures to drama, visual art, and the Spielberg film, this study ranges across the varied cultural reactions--in America and Sierra Leone--engendered by the 1839 Amistad slave ship revolt.

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is a native of Sierra Leone, from where the Amistad's cargo of slaves originated. She digs deeply into the Amistad story to show the historical and contemporary relevance of the incident and its subsequent trials. At the same time, she shows how the incident has contributed to the construction of national and cultural identity both in Africa and the African diasporo in America--though in intriguingly different ways.

This pioneering work of comparative African and American cultural criticism shows how creative arts have both confirmed and fostered the significance of the Amistad revolt in contemporary racial discourse and in the collective memories of both countries.

Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants Cover

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Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants

Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s

Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, by Jon Woodson, uses social philology to unveil social discourse, self fashioning, and debates in poems gathered from anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and individual collections. The first chapter examines three long poems, finding overarching jeremiadic discourse that inaugurated a militant, politically aware agent. Chapter two examines self-fashioning in the numerous sonnets that responded to the new media of radio, newsreels, movies, and photo-magazines. The third chapter shows how new subjectivities were generated by poetry addressed to the threat of race war in which the white race was exterminated. The black intellectuals who dominated the interpretative discourses of the 1930s fostered exteriority, while black culture as a whole plunged into interiority. Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants delineates the struggle between these inner and outer worlds, a study made difficult by a contemporary intellectual culture which recoils from a belief in a consistent, integrated self.

Apocalypse South Cover

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Apocalypse South

Judgment, Cataclysm, and Resistance in the Regional Imaginary

While John Winthrop might have famously uttered the phrase “city upon a hill” on the way to Massachusetts, the strands of millennialism and exceptionalism that remain so central to U.S. political discourse are now dominated by eschatological visions that have emerged from the particular historical experiences of the U.S. South. Despite the strategic exploitation of this reality by political communicators, scholars in the humanities have paid little attention to the eschatological visions offered by southern religious culture. Fortunately, writers and artists have not ignored such matters; compared to their academic counterparts, southern novelists have been far better attuned to a southern apocalyptic imaginary—a field of reference, drawn from the cosmology of southern evangelical Protestantism, that maps the apocalyptic possibilities of cataclysm, judgment, deliverance, and even revolution onto the landscape of the region. Apocalypse South rectifies the omissions in existing scholarship by interrogating the role of apocalyptic discourse in selected works of fiction by four southern writers—William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Randall Kenan, and Dorothy Allison. In doing so, it reinvigorates discussions of religion in southern literary scholarship and introduces a new element in the ongoing investigation into how regional identities function in notions of national mission and American exceptionalism. Engaging concerns of religion, race, sexuality, and community in fiction from the 1930s to the present, Apocalypse South offers a new conceptual framework for considering what has long been considered “southern Gothic literature”—a framework less concerned with the conventions of a particular literary genre than with the ways in which literature exposes and even tries to make sense of the contradictions within cultures. 

The Art and Life of Clarence Major Cover

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The Art and Life of Clarence Major

Keith E. Byerman

Clarence Major is an award-winning painter, fiction writer, and poet—as well as an essayist, editor, anthologist, lexicographer, and memoirist. He has been part of twenty-eight group exhibitions, has had fifteen one-man shows, and has published fourteen collections of poetry and nine works of fiction. The Art and Life of Clarence Major is the first critical biography of this innovative African American writer and visual artist. Given the full cooperation of his subject, Keith E. Byerman traces Major's life and career from his complex family history in Georgia through his encounters with important literary and artistic figures in Chicago and New York to his present status as a respected writer, artist, teacher, and scholar living in California.

In his introduction, Byerman asks, “How does a black man who does not take race as his principal identity, an artist who deliberately defies mainstream rules, a social and cultural critic who wants to be admired by the world he attacks, and a creator who refuses to commit to one expressive form make his way in the world?” Tasking himself with opening up the multiple layers of problems and solutions in both the work and the life to consider the successes and the failures, Byerman reveals Major as one who has devoted himself to a life of experimental art that has challenged both literary and painterly practice and the conventional understanding of the nature of African American art. Major's refusal to follow the rules has challenged readers and critics, but through it all, he has continued to produce quality work as a painter, poet, and novelist. His is the life of someone totally devoted to his creative work, one who has put his artistic vision ahead of fame, wealth, and sometimes even family.

A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.

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Artistic Ambassadors

Literary and International Representation of the New Negro Era

Brian Russell Roberts

During the first generation of black participation in U.S. diplomacy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a vibrant community of African American writers and cultural figures worked as U.S. representatives abroad. Through the literary and diplomatic dossiers of figures such as Frederick Douglass, James Weldon Johnson, Archibald and Angelina Grimké, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida Gibbs Hunt, and Richard Wright, Brian Roberts shows how the intersection of black aesthetic trends and U.S. political culture both Americanized and internationalized the trope of the New Negro. This decades-long relationship began during the days of Reconstruction, and it flourished as U.S. presidents courted and rewarded their black voting constituencies by appointing black men as consuls and ministers to such locales as Liberia, Haiti, Madagascar, and Venezuela. These appointments changed the complexion of U.S. interactions with nations and colonies of color; in turn, state-sponsored black travel gave rise to literary works that imported international representation into New Negro discourse on aesthetics, race, and African American culture.

Beyond offering a narrative of the formative dialogue between black transnationalism and U.S. international diplomacy, Artistic Ambassadors also illuminates a broader literary culture that reached both black and white America as well as the black diaspora and the wider world of people of color. In light of the U.S. appointments of its first two black secretaries of state and the election of its first black president, this complex representational legacy has continued relevance to our understanding of current American internationalism.

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Asylum Speakers

Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse

April Shemak

Offering the first interdisciplinary study of refugees in the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States, Asylum Speakers relates current theoretical debates about hospitality and cosmopolitanism to the actual conditions of refugees. In doing so, the author weighs the questions of truth valueassociated with various modes of witnessing to explore the function of testimonial discourse in constructing refugee subjectivity in New World cultural and political formations. By examining literary works by such writers as Edwidge Danticat, Nikl Payen, Kamau Brathwaite, Francisco Goldman, Julia Alvarez, Ivonne Lamazares, and Cecilia Rodr!guez Milans, theoretical work by Jacques Derrida, Edouard Glissant, and Wilson Harris, as well as human rights documents, government documents, photography, and historical studies, Asylum Speakers constructs a complex picture of New World refugees that expands current discussions of diaspora and migration, demonstrating that the peripheral nature of refugee testimonial narratives requires us to reshape the boundaries of U.S. ethnic and postcolonial studies.

At Home Inside Cover

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At Home Inside

A Daughter's Tribute to Ann Petry

Elisabeth Petry

Ann Petry (1908-1997) was a prominent writer during a period in which few black writers were published with regularity in America. Her novels The Street, Country Place, and The Narrows, along with a collection of short stories and various essays and works of nonfiction, give voice to black experience outside of the traditional strains of poverty and black nationalism.

At Home Inside: A Daughter's Tribute to Ann Petry sifts the myriad contradictions of Ann Petry's life from a daughter's vantage. Ann Petry hoarded antiques but destroyed many of her journals. She wrote, but, failing to publish for years, she used her imagination to design and sew clothes, to bake, and to garden. When fame finally came, Ann Petry did not enjoy the travel it brought. Though she suffered phobias and anxieties all her life, she did not avoid the obligations of literary success until late in her career.

Ann Petry applied her formidable skills to stories she told about herself and her family, and the corrections Elisabeth Petry makes to her mother's inventions will prove invaluable. Talking about her life publicly, Ann Petry acknowledged six different birth dates. She hid her first marriage, and even represented her father, Peter C. Lane, Jr., as a potential killer. Mining Petry's journals Elisabeth Petry creates part biography, part love letter, and part sounding of her mother's genius and luminescent personality.

Elisabeth Petry is a freelance writer with a juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Middletown, Connecticut, and is the editor of Can Anything Beat White? A Black Family's Letters (University Press of Mississippi).

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Backwater Blues

The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination

Richard M. Mizelle Jr.

The Mississippi River flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history, reshaping the social and cultural landscape as well as the physical environment. Often remembered as an event that altered flood control policy and elevated the stature of powerful politicians, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. examines the place of the flood within African American cultural memory and the profound ways it influenced migration patterns in the United States.

In Backwater Blues, Mizelle analyzes the disaster through the lenses of race and charity, blues music, and mobility and labor. The book’s title comes from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” perhaps the best-known song about the flood. Mizelle notes that the devastation produced the richest groundswell of blues recordings following any environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, with more than fifty songs by countless singers evoking the disruptive force of the flood and the precariousness of the levees originally constructed to protect citizens. Backwater Blues reveals larger relationships between social and environmental history. According to Mizelle, musicians, Harlem Renaissance artists, fraternal organizations, and Creole migrants all shared a sense of vulnerability in the face of both the Mississippi River and a white supremacist society. As a result, the Mississippi flood of 1927 was not just an environmental crisis but a racial event.

Challenging long-standing ideas of African American environmental complacency, Mizelle offers insights into the broader dynamics of human interactions with nature as well as ways in which nature is mediated through the social and political dynamics of race.Includes discography.

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Barriers between Us

Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Cassandra Jackson

This provocative book examines the representation of characters of mixed African and European descent in the works of African American and European American writers of the 19th century. The importance of mulatto figures as agents of ideological exchange in the American literary tradition has yet to receive sustained critical attention. Going beyond Sterling Brown's melodramatic stereotype of the mulatto as "tragic figure," Cassandra Jackson's close study of nine works of fiction shows how the mulatto trope reveals the social, cultural, and political ideas of the period. Jackson uncovers a vigorous discussion in 19th-century fiction about the role of racial ideology in the creation of an American identity. She analyzes the themes of race-mixing, the "mulatto," nation building, and the social fluidity of race (and its imagined biological rigidity) in novels by James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Hildreth, Lydia Maria Child, Frances E. W. Harper, Thomas Detter, George Washington Cable, and Charles Chesnutt.

Blacks in the Diaspora -- Claude A. Clegg III, editor
Darlene Clark Hine, David Barry Gaspar, and John McCluskey, founding editors

Bearing Witness to African American Literature Cover

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Bearing Witness to African American Literature

Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency

Bernard W. Bell

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.

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