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The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry

Howard Rambsy

The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry offers a close examination of the literary culture in which the Black Arts Movement’s poets (including Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal, Haki Madhubuti, Carolyn Rodgers, and others) operated and of the small presses and literary anthologies that first published the movement’s authors. The book also describes the role of the Black Arts Movement in reintroducing readers to poets such as Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, Margaret Walker, and Phillis Wheatley. Focusing on the material production of Black Arts poetry, the book combines genetic criticism with cultural history to shed new light on the period, its publishing culture, and the writing and editing practices of its participants. Howard Rambsy II demonstrates how significant circulation and format of black poetic texts—not simply their content—were to the formation of an artistic movement. The book goes on to examine other significant influences on the formation of Black Arts discourse, including such factors as an emerging nationalist ideology and figures such as John Coltrane and Malcolm X.

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Black Cosmopolitanism

Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas

By Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo

What are the perceived differences among African Americans, West Indians, and Afro Latin Americans? What are the hierarchies implicit in those perceptions, and when and how did these develop? For Ifeoma Nwankwo the turning point came in the wake of the Haitian Revolution of 1804. The uprising was significant because it not only brought into being the first Black republic in the Americas but also encouraged new visions of the interrelatedness of peoples of the African Diaspora. Black Cosmopolitanism looks to the aftermath of this historical moment to examine the disparities and similarities between the approaches to identity articulated by people of African descent in the United States, Cuba, and the British West Indies during the nineteenth century.

In Black Cosmopolitanism, Nwankwo contends that whites' fears of the Haitian Revolution and its potentially contagious nature virtually forced people of African descent throughout the Americas who were in the public eye to articulate their stance toward the event. While some, like William Wells Brown in his slave narrative, chose not to mention the existence of people of African heritage in other countries, others, like David Walker, embraced the Haitian Revolution and the message that it sent. Particularly in print, people of African descent had to decide where to position themselves and whether to emphasize their national or cosmopolitan, transnational identities.

Through readings of slave narratives, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, newspaper editorials, and government documents that include texts by Frederick Douglass, the freed West Indian slave Mary Prince, and the Cuban poets Placido and Juan Francisco Manzano, Nwankwo explicates this growing self-consciousness about publicly engaging other peoples of African descent. Ultimately, she contends, they configured their identities specifically to counter not only the Atlantic power structure's negation of their potential for transnational identity but also its simultaneous denial of their humanity and worthiness for national citizenship.

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Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation

Shirley Moody-Turner

Before the innovative work of Zora Neale Hurston, folklorists from the Hampton Institute collected, studied, and wrote about African American folklore. Like Hurston, these folklorists worked within but also beyond the bounds of white mainstream institutions. They often called into question the meaning of the very folklore projects in which they were engaged.

Shirley Moody-Turner analyzes this output, along with the contributions of a disparate group of African American authors and scholars. She explores how black authors and folklorists were active participants--rather than passive observers--in conversations about the politics of representing black folklore. Examining literary texts, folklore documents, cultural performances, legal discourse, and political rhetoric, Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation demonstrates how folklore studies became a battleground across which issues of racial identity and difference were asserted and debated at the turn of the twentieth century. The study is framed by two questions of historical and continuing import. What role have representations of black folklore played in constructing racial identity? And, how have those ideas impacted the way African Americans think about and creatively engage black traditions?

Moody-Turner renders established historical facts in a new light and context, taking figures we thought we knew--such as Charles Chesnutt, Anna Julia Cooper, and Paul Laurence Dunbar--and recasting their place in African American intellectual and cultural history.

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Black Masculinity and the U.S. South

From Uncle Tom to Gangsta

RichT Richardson

This pathbreaking study of region, race, and gender reveals how we underestimate the South's influence on the formation of black masculinity at the national level. Many negative stereotypes of black men—often contradictory ones—have emerged from the ongoing historical traumas initiated by slavery. Are black men emasculated and submissive or hypersexed and violent? Nostalgic representations of black men have arisen as well: think of the philosophical, hardworking sharecropper or the abiding, upright preacher. To complicate matters, says Riché Richardson, blacks themselves appropriate these images for purposes never intended by their (mostly) white progenitors.

Starting with such well-known caricatures as the Uncle Tom and the black rapist, Richardson investigates a range of pathologies of black masculinity that derive ideological force from their associations with the South. Military policy, black-liberation discourse, and contemporary rap, she argues, are just some of the instruments by which egregious pathologies of black masculinity in southern history have been sustained. Richardson's sources are eclectic and provocative, including Ralph Ellison's fiction, Charles Fuller's plays, Spike Lee's films, Huey Newton's and Malcolm X's political rhetoric, the O. J. Simpson discourse, and the music production of Master P, the Cash Money Millionaires, and other Dirty South rappers.

Filled with new insights into the region's role in producing hierarchies of race and gender in and beyond their African American contexts, this new study points the way toward more epistemological frameworks for southern literature, southern studies, and gender studies.

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Black on Black

Twentieth-Century African American Writing about Africa

John Cullen Gruesser

Black on Black provides the first comprehensive analysis of the modern African American literary response to Africa, from W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk to Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Combining cutting-edge theory, extensive historical and archival research, and close readings of individual texts, Gruesser reveals the diversity of the African American response to Countee Cullen's question, "What is Africa to Me?"

John Gruesser uses the concept of Ethiopianism--the biblically inspired belief that black Americans would someday lead Africans and people of the diaspora to a bright future--to provide a framework for his study. Originating in the eighteenth century and inspiring religious and political movements throughout the 1800s, Ethiopianism dominated African American depictions of Africa in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in the writings of Du Bois, Sutton Griggs, and Pauline Hopkins. Beginning with the Harlem Renaissance and continuing through the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, however, its influence on the portrayal of the continent slowly diminished.

Ethiopianism's decline can first be seen in the work of writers closely associated with the New Negro Movement, including Alain Locke and Langston Hughes, and continued in the dramatic work of Shirley Graham, the novels of George Schuyler, and the poetry and prose of Melvin Tolson. The final rejection of Ethiopianism came after the dawning of the Cold War and roughly coincided with the advent of postcolonial Africa in works by authors such as Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, and Alice Walker.

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Black on Earth

African American Ecoliterary Traditions

Kimberly N. Ruffin

American environmental literature has relied heavily on the perspectives of European Americans, often ignoring other groups. In Black on Earth, Kimberly Ruffin expands the reach of ecocriticism by analyzing the ecological experiences, conceptions, and desires seen in African American writing.
Ruffin identifies a theory of “ecological burden and beauty” in which African American authors underscore the ecological burdens of living within human hierarchies in the social order just as they explore the ecological beauty of being a part of the natural order. Blacks were ecological agents before the emergence of American nature writing, argues Ruffin, and their perspectives are critical to understanding the full scope of ecological thought.
Ruffin examines African American ecological insights from the antebellum era to the twenty-first century, considering WPA slave narratives, neo–slave poetry, novels, essays, and documentary films, by such artists as Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Henry Dumas, Percival Everett, Spike Lee, and Jayne Cortez. Identifying themes of work, slavery, religion, mythology, music, and citizenship, Black on Earth highlights the ways in which African American writers are visionary ecological artists.

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The Black Pacific Narrative

Geographic Imaginings of Race and Empire between the World Wars

Etsuko Taketani

The Black Pacific Narrative: Geographic Imaginings of Race and Empire between the World Wars chronicles the profound shift in geographic imaginings that occurred in African American culture as the United States evolved into a bioceanic global power. The author examines the narrative of the “black Pacific” the literary and cultural production of African American narratives in the face of America’s efforts to internationalize the Pacific and to institute a “Pacific Community,” reflecting a vision of a hemispheric regional order initiated and led by the United States. The black Pacific was imagined in counterpoint to this regional order in the making, which would ultimately be challenged by the Pacific War. The principal subjects of study include such literary and cultural figures as James Weldon Johnson, George S. Schuyler, artists of the black Federal Theatre Project, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Walter White, all of whom afford significant points of entry to a critical understanding of the stakes of the black Pacific narrative. Adopting an approach that mixes the archival and the interpretive, the author seeks to recover the black Pacific produced by African American narratives, narratives that were significant enough in their time to warrant surveillance and suspicion, and hence are significant enough in our time to warrant scholarly attention and reappraisal.

A compelling study that will appeal to a broad, international audience of students and scholars of American studies, African American studies, American literature, and imperialism and colonialism.

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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.

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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.

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Black Well-Being

Health and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature

Stone, Andrea

Analyzing slave narratives, emigration polemics, a murder trial, and black-authored fiction, Andrea Stone highlights the central role physical and mental health and well-being played in antebellum black literary constructions of selfhood. At a time when political and medical theorists emphasized black well-being in their arguments for or against slavery, African American men and women developed their own theories about what it means to be healthy and well in contexts of injury, illness, sexual abuse, disease, and disability.

Such portrayals of the healthy black self in early black print culture created a nineteenth-century politics of well-being that spanned continents. Even in conditions of painful labor, severely limited resources, and physical and mental brutality, these writers counter stereotypes and circumstances by representing and claiming the totality of bodily existence.

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