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Literature > American Literature > African American Literature

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Black Regions of the Imagination Cover

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Black Regions of the Imagination

African American Writers between the Nation and the World

Focusing on literature produced between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement (1930-1970), in Black Regions of the Imagination explores how Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Chester Himes and James Baldwin consistently represent black Americans within both national and international settings. The book sets forth "the region" as a way to make sense of the paradigmatic anti-national narrative concerns of these black writers who set about to both document and re-imagine a set of "homegrown" racial experiences within a more worldly framework. In the writings of the selected authors one sees the constant coupling of national and international settings and concerns, disallowing the privileging of the national or the international in an attempt to escape the ever-marginalizing parochialism dictated by mid-20th century American segregation. Moreover, ethnography is the stylistic optic utilized by these writers to represent issues of proximity and distance implied by the simultaneous presentation of the national and international. Through the employment of ethnographic techniques such as participant-observation, thick description, and an attention to the social significance of American cultural practices (namely racism), these mid-20th century black Americans signify on blackness in new ways.

Black Venus 2010: They Called Her

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Black Venus 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot"

As a young South African woman of about twenty, Saartjie Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus,” was brought to London and placed on exhibit in 1810. Clad in the Victorian equivalent of a body stocking, and paraded through the streets and on stage in a cage she became a human spectacle in London and Paris. Baartman’s distinctive physique became the object of ridicule, curiosity, scientific inquiry, and desire until and after her premature death. The figure of Sarah Baartman was reduced to her sexual parts.


Black Venus 2010 traces Baartman’s memory in our collective histories, as well as her symbolic history in the construction and identity of black women as artists, performers, and icons. The wide-ranging essays, poems, and images in Black Venus 2010 represent some of the most compelling responses to Baartman. Each one grapples with the enduring legacy of this young African woman who forever remains a touchstone for black women.

Contributors include: Elizabeth Alexander, Holly Bass, Petrushka A Bazin, William Jelani Cobb, Lisa Gail Collins,  Renée Cox, J. Yolande Daniels, Carole Boyce Davies, Leon de Wailly, Manthia Diawara, Diana Ferrus, Cheryl Finley, Nikky Finney, Kianga K. Ford, Terri Francis, Sander Gilman, Renée Green, Joy Gregory, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michael D. Harris, Linda Susan Jackson, Kellie Jones, Roshini Kempadoo, Simone Leigh, Zine Magubane, E. Ethelbert Miller, Robin Mitchell, Charmaine Nelson, Tracey Rose, Radcliffe Roye, Bernadette Searle, Lorna Simpson, Debra S. Singer, Penny Siopis, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Michele Wallace, Carla Williams, Carrie Mae Weems, J. T. Zealy, and the editor.

Black Writers, White Publishers Cover

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Black Writers, White Publishers

Marketplace Politics in Twentieth- Century African American Literature

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.

Blood Work Cover

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Blood Work

Imagining Race in American Literature, 1890--1940

Shawn Salvant

The invocation of blood-as both an image and a concept-has long been critical in the formation of American racism. In Blood Work, Shawn Salvant mines works from the American literary canon to explore the multitude of associations that race and blood held in the consciousness of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americans.

Drawing upon race and metaphor theory, Salvant provides readings of four classic novels featuring themes of racial identity: Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894); Pauline Hopkins's Of One Blood (1902); Frances Harper's Iola Leroy (1892); and William Faulkner's Light in August (1932). His expansive analysis of blood imagery uncovers far more than the merely biological connotations that dominate many studies of blood rhetoric: the racial discourses of blood in these novels encompass the anthropological and the legal, the violent and the religious. Penetrating and insightful, Blood Work illuminates the broad-ranging power of the blood metaphor to script distinctly American plots-real and literary-of racial identity.

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"Born in a Mighty Bad Land"

The Violent Man in African American Folklore and Fiction

Jerry H. Bryant

The figure of the violent man in the African American imagination has a long history. He can be found in 19th-century bad man ballads like "Stagolee" and "John Hardy," as well as in the black convict recitations that influenced "gangsta" rap. "Born in a Mighty Bad Land" connects this figure with similar characters in African American fiction. Many writers -- McKay and Hurston in the Harlem Renaissance; Wright, Baldwin, and Ellison in the '40s and '50s; Himes in the '50s and '60s -- saw the "bad nigger" as an archetypal figure in the black imagination and psyche. "Blaxploitation" novels in the '70s made him a virtually mythical character. More recently, Mosley, Wideman, and Morrison have presented him as ghetto philosopher and cultural adventurer. Behind the folklore and fiction, many theories have been proposed to explain the source of the bad man's intra-racial violence. Jerry H. Bryant explores all of these elements in a wide-ranging and illuminating look at one of the most misunderstood figures in African American culture.

Bound to Respect Cover

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Bound to Respect

Antebellum Narratives of Black Imprisonment, Servitude, and Bondage, 1816–1861

Winner of the Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Literature
In Bound to Respect: Antebellum Narratives of Black Imprisonment, Servitude, and Bondage, 1816–1861, Keith Michael Green examines key texts that illuminate forms of black bondage and captivity that existed within and alongside slavery. In doing so, he restores to antebellum African American autobiographical writing the fascinating heterogeneity lost if the historical experiences of African Americans are attributed to slavery alone.
The book’s title is taken from the assertion by US Supreme Court chief justice Roger B. Taney in his 1857 Dred Scott decision that blacks had no rights that whites were “bound to respect.” This allusion highlights Green’s critical assertion that the dehumanizing absurdities to which defenders of slavery resorted to justify slavery only brought into more stark relief the humanity of African Americans.
A gifted storyteller, Green examines four forms of captivity: incarceration, enslavement to Native Americans, child indentured servitude, and maritime capture. By illuminating this dense penumbra of captivity beyond the strict definitions of slavery, he presents a fluid and holistic network of images, vocabulary, narratives, and history. By demonstrating how these additional forms of confinement flourished in the era of slavery, Green shows how they persisted beyond emancipation, in such a way that freed slaves did not in fact partake of “freedom” as white Americans understood it. This gap in understanding continues to bedevil contemporary American society, and Green deftly draws persuasive connections between past and present.
A vital and convincing offering to readers of literary criticism, African American studies, and American history, Green’s Bound to Respect brings fresh and nuanced insights to this fundamental chapter in the American story.

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Breaking the Silence

Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism

David Ikard

Can black males offer useful insights on black women and patriarchy? Many black feminists are doubtful. Their skepticism derives in part from a history of explosive encounters with black men who blamed feminism for stigmatizing black men and undermining racial solidarity and in part from a perception that black male feminists are opportunists capitalizing on the current popularity of black women's writing and criticism. In Breaking the Silence, David Ikard goes boldly to the crux of this debate through a series of provocative readings of key African American texts that demonstrate the possibility and value of a viable black male feminist perspective. Seeking to advance the primary objectives of black feminism, Ikard provides literary models from Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go, James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Toni Morrison's Paradise, Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, and Walter Mosley's Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walkin' the Dog that consciously wrestle with the concept of victim status for black men and women. He looks at how complicity across gender lines, far from rooting out patriarchy in the black community, has allowed it to thrive. This complicity, Ikard explains, is a process by which victimized groups invest in victim status to the point that they unintentionally concede power to their victimizers and engage in patterns of behavior that are perceived as revolutionary but actually reinforce the status quo. While black feminism has fostered important and necessary discussions regarding the problems of patriarchy within the black community, little attention has been paid to the intersecting dynamics of complicity. By laying bare the nexus between victim status and complicity in oppression, Breaking the Silence charts a new direction for conceptualizing black women's complex humanity and provides the foundations for more expansive feminist approaches to resolving intraracial gender conflicts.

Burnt Cork Cover

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Burnt Cork

Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy

edited by Stephen Johnson

Beginning in the 1830s and continuing for more than a century, blackface minstrelsy—stage performances that claimed to represent the culture of black Americans—remained arguably the most popular entertainment in North America. A renewed scholarly interest in this contentious form of entertainment has produced studies treating a range of issues: its contradictory depictions of class, race, and gender; its role in the development of racial stereotyping; and its legacy in humor, dance, and music, and in live performance, film, and television. The style and substance of minstrelsy persist in popular music, tap and hip-hop dance, the language of the standup comic, and everyday rituals of contemporary culture. The blackface makeup all but disappeared for a time, though its influence never diminished—and recently, even the makeup has been making a comeback. This collection of original essays brings together a group of prominent scholars of blackface performance to reflect on this complex and troublesome tradition. Essays consider the early relationship of the blackface performer with American politics and the antislavery movement; the relationship of minstrels to the commonplace compromises of the touring “show” business and to the mechanization of the industrial revolution; the exploration and exploitation of blackface in the mass media, by D. W. Griffith and Spike Lee, in early sound animation, and in reality television; and the recent reappropriation of the form at home and abroad. In addition to the editor, contributors include Dale Cockrell, Catherine Cole, Louis Chude-Sokei, W. T. Lhamon, Alice Maurice, Nicholas Sammond, and Linda Williams.

Byline, Richard Wright Cover

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Byline, Richard Wright

Articles from the DAILY WORKER and NEW MASSES

Edited by Earle V. Bryant

A writer perhaps best known for the revolutionary works Black Boy and Native Son, Richard Wright also worked as a journalist during one of the most explosive periods of the 20th century. From 1937 to 1938, Wright turned out more than two hundred articles for the Daily Worker--the newspaper that served as the voice of the American Communist Party. Byline, Richard Wright, edited by Earle V. Bryant, assembles more than one hundred of those articles plus two of Wright’s essays from New Masses, revealing to readers the early work of an American icon.

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Vol. 18 (1995) through current issue

Callaloo, the premier journal of literature, art, and culture of the African Diaspora, publishes original work by and about writers and visual artists of African descent worldwide. Recently ranked 13th in Every Writer's Resource's Top 50 Literary Magazines, Callaloo offers an engaging mixture of fiction, poetry, critical articles, interviews, drama, and visual art. Frequent annotated bibliographies, special issues dedicated to major writers and literary, social, and cultural themes, and full-color, original artwork and photography are some of the features of this highly acclaimed international showcase of arts and letters. Annual subscriptions will now include a fifth issue titled Callaloo Art.

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