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Literature > American Literature > African American Literature

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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.

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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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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.

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Callaloo

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.

Calls and Responses Cover

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Calls and Responses

The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind

Tim A. Ryan

In this comprehensive, groundbreaking study, Tim A. Ryan explores how American novelists since World War I have imagined the institution of slavery and the experience of those involved in it. Complicating the common assumption that authentic black-authored fiction about slavery is starkly opposed to the traditional, racist fiction (and history) created by whites, Ryan suggests that discourses about American slavery are—and have always been—defined by connections rather than disjunctions. Ryan contends that African American writers didn't merely reject and move beyond traditional portrayals of the black past but rather actively engaged in a dynamic dialogue with white-authored versions of slavery and existing historiographical debates. The result is an ongoing cultural conversation that transcends both racial and disciplinary boundaries and is akin to the call-and-response style of African American gospel music. Ryan addresses in detail more than a dozen major American novels of slavery, from the first significant modern fiction about the institution—Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder (both published in 1936)—to recent noteworthy novels on the topic—Edward P. Jones's The Known World and Valerie Martin's Property (both published in 2003). His insistence upon the necessity of interpreting novels about the past directly in relation to specific historical scholarship makes Calls and Responses especially compelling. He reads Toni Morrison's Beloved not in opposition to a monolithic orthodoxy about slavery but in relation to specific arguments of controversial historian Stanley Elkins. Similarly, he analyzes William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner in terms of its rhetorical echoes of Frederick Douglass's famous autobiographical narrative. Ryan shows throughout Calls and Responses how a variety of novelists—including Alex Haley, Octavia Butler, Ishmael Reed, Margaret Walker, and Frances Gaither—engage in a dynamic debate with each other and with such historians as Herbert Aptheker, Charles Joyner, Eugene and Elizabeth Genovese, and many others. A substantially new account of the development of American slavery fiction in the last century, Calls and Responses goes beyond merely exalting the expression of black voices and experiences and actually reconfigures the existing view of the American novel of slavery.

Can't I Love What I Criticize? Cover

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Can't I Love What I Criticize?

The Masculine and Morrison

Susan Neal Mayberry

Taking a close look at all the key male figures in Toni Morrison's eight novels, this book explores Morrison's admitted, but critically neglected, interest in the relationships between African American men and women and the “axes” on which these relationships turn. Most Morrison scholarship deals with her female characters. Can't I Love What I Criticize? offers a response to this imbalance and to Morrison's call for more work on men, who remain, in her words, “outside of that little community value thing.”

The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses “extremely well,” and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by “white men, period,” have managed to maintain a feisty “magic” that everybody wants but nobody else has.

Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in “countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms”--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have “successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance” and that “their connections to black women have saved their lives.” To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.

The Captive Stage Cover

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The Captive Stage

Performance and the Proslavery Imagination of the Antebellum North

Douglas A. Jones, Jr.

Changing the Subject Cover

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Changing the Subject

Writing Women across the African Diaspora

In Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora, K. Merinda Simmons argues that, in first-person narratives about women of color, contexts of migration illuminate constructions of gender and labor. These constructions and migrations suggest that the oft-employed notion of “authenticity” is not as useful a classification as many feminist and postcolonial scholars have assumed. Instead of relying on so-called authentic feminist journeys and heroines for her analysis, Simmons calls for a self-reflexive scholarship that takes seriously the scholar’s own role in constructing the subject. The starting point for this study is the nineteenth-century Caribbean narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831). Simmons puts Prince’s narrative in conversation with three twentieth-century novels: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, and Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. She incorporates autobiography theory to shift the critical focus from the object of study—slave histories—to the ways people talk about those histories and to the guiding interests of such discourses. In its reframing of women’s migration narratives, Simmons’s study unsettles theoretical certainties and disturbs the very notion of a cohesive diaspora.

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