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Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance

Katharine Capshaw Smith

The Harlem Renaissance, the period associated with the flowering of the arts in Harlem, inaugurated a tradition of African American children's literature, for the movement's central writers made youth both their subject and audience. W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Langston Hughes, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and other Harlem Renaissance figures took an impassioned interest in the literary models offered to children, believing that the "New Negro" would ultimately arise from black youth. As a result, African American children's literature became a crucial medium through which a disparate community forged bonds of cultural, economic, and aesthetic solidarity. Kate Capshaw Smith explores the period's vigorous exchange about the nature and identity of black childhood and uncovers the networks of African American philosophers, community activists, schoolteachers, and literary artists who worked together to transmit black history and culture to the next generation.

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Claiming Exodus

A Cultural History of Afro-Atlantic Identity, 1774-1903

Rhondda Robinson Thomas

During the 18th century, American Puritans introduced migrant and enslaved Africans to the Exodus story. In contrast to the ways white Americans appropriated the texts to defend the practice of slavery, African migrants and slaves would recast the Exodus in defense of freedom and equality, creating narratives that would ultimately propel abolition and result in a wellspring of powerful writing. Drawing on a broad collection of Afro-Atlantic authors, Rhondda Robinson Thomas shows how writers such as Absalom Jones, Daniel Coker, and W.E.B. Du Bois employed the Exodus metanarrative to ask profound, difficult questions of the African experience. These writers employed it as a literary muse, warranting, Thomas contends, that they be classified and studied as a unique literary genre. Through an arresting reading of works renowned to the largely unknown, Claiming Exodus uncovers in these writings a robust foundation for enacting political change and a stimulating picture of Africans constructing their own identity in a new and unfamiliar land.

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Close Kin and Distant Relatives

The Paradox of Respectability in Black Women's Literature

Susana M. Morris

The "black family" in the United States and the Caribbean often holds contradictory and competing meanings in public discourse: on the one hand, it is a site of love, strength, and support; on the other hand, it is a site of pathology, brokenness, and dysfunction that has frequently called forth an emphasis on conventional respectability if stability and social approval are to be achieved. Looking at the ways in which contemporary African American and black Caribbean women writers conceptualize the black family, Susana Morris finds a discernible tradition that challenges the politics of respectability by arguing that it obfuscates the problematic nature of conventional understandings of family and has damaging effects as a survival strategy for blacks.

The author draws on African American studies, black feminist theory, cultural studies, and women’s studies to examine the work of Paule Marshall, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, and Sapphire, showing how their novels engage the connection between respectability and ambivalence. These writers advocate instead for a transgressive understanding of affinity and propose an ethic of community support and accountability that calls for mutual affection, affirmation, loyalty, and respect. At the core of these transgressive family systems, Morris reveals, is a connection to African diasporic cultural rites such as dance, storytelling, and music that help the fictional characters to establish familial connections.

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Color

Essays on Race, Family, and History

Kenneth A. McClane

In 1991, acclaimed poet Kenneth A. McClane published Walls: Essays, 1985-1990, a volume of essays dealing with life in Harlem, the death of his alcoholic brother, and the complexities of being black and middle-class in America. Now, in Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History, McClane contributes further to his self-described “autobiographical sojourn” with a second collection of interconnected essays. In McClane’s words, “All concern race, although they, like the human spirit, wildly sweep and yaw.” A timely installment in our national narrative, Color is a chronicle of the black middle class, a group rarely written about with sensitivity and charity. In evocative, trenchant, and poetic prose, McClane employs the art of the memoirist to explore the political and the personal. He details the poignant narrative of racial progress as witnessed by his family during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. We learn of his parents’ difficult upbringing in Boston, where they confronted much racism; of the struggles they and McClane encountered as they became the first blacks to enter previously all-white institutions, including the oldest independent school in the United States; and of the part his parents played in the civil rights movement, working with Dr. King and others. The book ends with a tender account of his parents in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed both their lives.

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Coloring Whiteness

Acts of Critique in Black Performance

Faedra Chatard Carpenter

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Commerce in Color

Race, Consumer Culture, and American Literature, 1893-1933

James C. Davis

Commerce in Color explores the juncture of consumer culture and race by examining advertising, literary texts, mass culture, and public events in the United States from 1893 to 1933. James C. Davis takes up a remarkable range of subjects—including the crucial role publishers Boni and Liveright played in the marketing of Harlem Renaissance literature, Henry James’s critique of materialism in The American Scene, and the commodification of racialized popular culture in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man—as he argues that racial thinking was central to the emergence of U.S. consumerism and, conversely, that an emerging consumer culture was a key element in the development of racial thinking and the consolidation of racial identity in America. By urging a reassessment of the familiar rubrics of the “culture of consumption” and the “culture of segregation,” Dawson poses new and provocative questions about American culture and social history. Both an influential literary study and an absorbing historical read, Commerce in Color proves that—in America—advertising, publicity, and the development of the modern economy cannot be understood apart from the question of race. “A welcome addition to existing scholarship, Davis’s study of the intersection of racial thinking and the emergence of consumer culture makes connections very few scholars have considered.” —James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts James C. Davis is Assistant Professor of English at Brooklyn College.

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Condition Red

Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries

Yusef Komunyakaa; Edited by Radiclani Clytus

Condition Red collects writing by one of America’s most gifted and revered poets, Yusef Komunyakaa. While themes from his earlier prose collection, Blue Notes, run through Condition Red, this volume expresses a greater sense of urgency about the human condition and the role of the artist. Condition Red includes his powerful letter to Poetry magazine, asserting that “we writers (artists) cannot forget that we are responsible for what we conjure and embrace through language, whether in essays, novels, plays, poems, or songs.” Also included are essays and interviews on: coming home to Bogalusa, Louisiana; the influence of religion on black poetry; language and eroticism; the visual artist Floyd Tunson; and the poets Robert Hayden, Walt Whitman, Clarence Major, and Etheridge Knight. The book features an extended introduction by editor Radiclani Clytus, who concludes that “Condition Red issues readers much more than a critical warning; it reminds us that our innate cultural capacity for language is, and always has been, the sum total of that which defines us.”

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Contact Zones

Memory, Origin, and Discourses in Black Diasporic Cinema

Sheila J. Petty

Created at the crossroads of slavery, migration, and exile, and comprising a global population, the black diaspora is a diverse space of varied histories, experiences, and goals. Likewise, black diasporic film tends to focus on the complexities of transnational identity, which oscillates between similarity and difference and resists easy categorization. In Contact Zones author Sheila J. Petty addresses a range of filmmakers, theorists, and issues in black diasporic cinema, highlighting their ongoing influences on contemporary artistic and theoretical discourses. Petty examines both Anglophone and Francophone films and theorists, divided according to this volume’s three thematic sections—Slavery, Migration and Exile, and Beyond Borders. The feature films and documentaries considered—which include Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust, The Man by the Shore, and Rude, among others—represent a wide range of cultures and topics. Through close textual analysis that incorporates the work of well-known diasporic thinkers like W. E. B. DuBois, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon along with contemporary notables such as Molefi Kete Asante, bell hooks, Clenora Hudson-Weems, René Depestre, Paul Gilroy, and Rinaldo Walcott, Petty details the unique ways in which black diasporic films create meaning. By exploring a variety of African American, Caribbean, Black British, and African Canadian perspectives, Contact Zones provides a detailed survey of the diversity and vitality of black diasporic contributions to cinema and theory. This volume will be a welcome addition to the libraries of scholars and students of film studies and Africana studies.

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Contemporary African American Fiction

New Critical Essays

In Contemporary African American Fiction: New Critical Essays, edited by Dana A. Williams, eight contributors examine trends and ideas which characterize African American fiction since 1970. They investigate many of the key inquiries which inform discussions about the condition of contemporary African American fiction. The range of queries is wide and varied. How does African American fiction represent the changing times in America and the world? How are these changes reflected in narrative strategies or in narrative content? How do contemporary fictionists engage diasporic Africanisms, or how do they renegotiate Americanism? What is the impact of cultural production, gender, sexuality, nationality, and ethnicity on this fiction? How does contemporary African American fiction reconstruct or rewrite earlier “classic” African American, American, or world literature? Authors under study include Ernest J. Gaines, Ishmael Reed, Edwidge Danticat, Octavia E. Butler, Olympia Vernon, Toni Morrison, and Reginald McKnight, among others. These essays remind us that the African American literary tradition is about survival and liberation. The tradition is similarly about probing, challenging, changing, and redirecting accepted ways of thinking to ensure the wellness and the freedom of its community cohorts. The essays identify new ways contemporary African American fiction continues the tradition’s liberatory inclinations—they interrogate the ways in which antecedent texts and traditions influence contemporary texts to create new traditions.

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