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An African American Writer's (Re)Visionary Gospel of Success
Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was perhaps the most prolific black female writer of her time. Between 1900 and 1904, writing mainly for Colored American Magazine, she published four novels, at least seven short stories, and numerous articles that often addressed the injustices and challenges facing African Americans in post–Civil War America. In Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream, Alisha Knight provides the first full-length critical analysis of Hopkins’s work. Scholars have frequently situated Hopkins within the domestic, sentimental tradition of nineteenth-century women's writing, with some critics observing that aspects of her writing, particularly its emphasis on the self-made man, seem out of place within the domestic tradition. Knight argues that Hopkins used this often-dismissed theme to critique American society's ingrained racism and sexism. In her “Famous Men” and “Famous Women” series for Colored American Magazine, she constructed her own version of the success narrative by offering models of African American self-made men and women. Meanwhile, in her fiction, she depicted heroes who fail to achieve success or must leave the United States to do so. Hopkins risked and eventually lost her position at Colored American Magazine by challenging black male leaders, liberal white philanthropists, and white racists—and by conceiving a revolutionary treatment of the American Dream that placed her far ahead of her time. Hopkins is finally getting her due, and this clear-eyed analysis of her work will be a revelation to literary scholars, historians of African American history, and students of women’s studies.
Percival Everett writes novels, short stories, poetry, and essays, and is one of the most prolific, acclaimed, yet under-examined African American writers working today. Although to date Everett has published eighteen novels, three collections of short fiction, three poetry collections, and one children's book, his work has not garnered the critical attention that it deserves. Perhaps one of the most vexing problems black and white scholars have had in trying to situate Everett's work is that they have found it difficult to "place" him and his work within a prescribed African American literary tradition. Because he happens to be African American, critics have expectations of so-called "authentic" African American fiction; however, his work often thwarts these expectations.
In Perspectives on Percival Everett, scholars engage all of his creative production. On the one hand, Everett is an African American novelist. On the other hand, he pursues subject matters that seemingly have little to do with African American culture. The operative word here is "seemingly"; for as these essays demonstrate, Everett's works falls well within as well as outside of what most critics would deem the African American literary tradition. These essays examine issues of identity, authenticity, and semiotics, in addition to postmodernism and African American and American literary traditions--issues essential to understanding his aesthetic and political concerns.
Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures
Protest and Discontent, 1945-1950
Americans in the World War II era bought the novels of African American writers in unprecedented numbers. But the names on the books lining shelves and filling barracks trunks were not the now-familiar Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, but Frank Yerby, Chester Himes, William Gardner Smith, and J. Saunders Redding.In this book, Stephanie Brown recovers the work of these innovative novelists, overturning conventional wisdom about the writers of the period and the trajectory of African American literary history. She also questions the assumptions about the relations between race and genre that have obscured the importance of these once-influential creators.Wright's Native Son (1940) is typically considered to have inaugurated an era of social realism in African-American literature. And Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) has been cast as both a high mark of American modernism and the only worthy stopover on the way to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. But readers in the late 1940s purchased enough copies of Yerby's historical romances to make him the best-selling African American author of all time. Critics, meanwhile, were taking note of the generic experiments of Redding, Himes, and Smith, while the authors themselves questioned the obligation of black authors to write protest, instead penning campus novels, war novels, and, in Yerby's case, "costume dramas." Their status as "lesser lights" is the product of retrospective bias, Brown demonstrates, and their novels established the period immediately following World War II as a pivotal moment in the history of the African American novel.
Textual Constructions of Race Since 1850
From the white editorial authentication of slave narratives, to the cultural hybridity of the Harlem Renaissance, to the overtly independent publications of the Black Arts Movement, to the commercial power of Oprah's Book Club, African American textuali
Interraciality, Same Sex Desire, and Contemporary African American Culture
This book analyzes representative works of African American fiction, film, and music in which interracial desire appears in the context of same sex desire. In close readings of these "texts," Stefanie K. Dunning explores the ways in which the interracial intersects with queerness, blackness, whiteness, class, and black national identity. She shows that representations of interracial desire do not follow the logic of racial exclusion. Instead they are metaphorical and anti-biological. Rather than diluting race, interracial desire makes race visible. By invoking the interracial, black gay and lesbian artists can remake our conception of blackness.
The Violent Man in African American Folklore and Fiction
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.
Suzanne Lacascade, Marita Bonner, Suzanne Césaire, Dorothy West
Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism revives and critiques four African American and Francophone Caribbean women writers sometimes overlooked in discussions of early-twentieth-century literature: Guadeloupean Suzanne Lacascade (dates unknown), African American Marita Bonner (1899–1971), Martinican Suzanne Césaire (1913–1966), and African American Dorothy West (1907–1998). Reexamining their most significant work, Jennifer M. Wilks demonstrates how their writing challenges prevailing racial archetypes—such as the New Negro and the Negritude hero—of the period from the 1920s to the 1940s, and explores how these writers tapped into modernist currents from expressionism to surrealism to produce progressive treatments of race, gender, and nation that differed from those of currently canonized black writers of the era, the great majority of whom are men. Wilks begins with Lacascade, whom she deems "best known for being unknown," reading Lacascade's novel Claire-Solange, âme africaine (1924) as a protofeminist, proto-Negritude articulation of Caribbean identity. She then examines the fissures left unexplored in New Negro visions of African American community by showing the ways in which Bonner's essays, plays, and short stories highlight issues of economic class. Césaire applied the ideas and techniques of surrealism to the French language, and Wilks reveals how her writings in the journal Tropiques (1941-45) directly and insightfully engage the intellectual influences that informed the work of canonical Negritude. Wilks' close reading of West's The Living Is Easy (1948) provides a retrospective critique of the forces that continued to circumscribe women's lives in the midst of the social and cultural awakening presumably embodied in the New Negro. To show how the black literary tradition has continued to confront the conflation of gender roles with social and literary conventions, Wilks examines these writers alongside the late twentieth-century writings of Maryse Condé and Toni Morrison. Unlike many literary analysts, Wilks does not bring together the four writers based on geography. Lacascade and Césaire came from different Caribbean islands, and though Bonner and West were from the United States, they never crossed paths. In considering this eclectic group of women writers together, Wilks reveals the analytical possibilities opened up by comparing works influenced by multiple intellectual traditions.
Autobiography and Empowerment in Nineteenth-Century African American Women
In this cutting-edge work, Rosetta R. Haynes explores the spiritual autobiographies of five nineteenth-century female African American itinerant preachers to discover the ways in which they drew upon religion and the material conditions of their lives to fashion powerful personas that enabled them to pursue their missions as divinely appointed religious leaders. Haynes examines the lives and narratives of Jarena Lee (1783–?), Zilpha Elaw (c. 1790–?), Julia Foote (1823–1900), Amanda Berry Smith (1837–1915), and Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795–1871) through an innovative conceptual framework Haynes terms “radical spiritual motherhood”—an empowering identity deriving from the experience of “sanctification,” a kind of spiritual perfection following conversion. Drawing upon conventional nineteenth-century standards for motherhood, radical spiritual motherhood also challenges traditional standards: These were women whose religious missions authorized them to preach in public, to assume an activist role, and to declare sexual autonomy through celibacy. They redefined their relationships to the powers that be by becoming instruments of God in a kind of protofeminist gesture. Haynes uses historical methods, feminist literary theory, and liberation theology to investigate the ways these women, as reflected especially in their autobiographies, employed the idea of motherhood to fashion strong, authentic identities as women called to preach the gospel. Though radical spiritual motherhood is an identity specifically adopted by free black women, the lives and texts of these itinerant preachers retain close ties to those of enslaved black women through the negative cultural stereotypes assigned to both groups. To illustrate this connection, Haynes analyzes the writings of the preachers within the context of the narratives of former slaves Harriet Jacobs, Mary Prince, and Sojourner Truth. Haynes also links the lineage of radical spiritual motherhood to a modern woman by considering Pauli Murray (1910–1985), the first African American woman (and the second African American) to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. By looking at Murray’s intellectual and spiritual development, especially her feminist ideologies, social activism, and espousal of liberation theology, Haynes shows that Murray was in fact a modern-day radical spiritual mother. Pioneering and accessible, Radical Spiritual Motherhood marks a turning point in the study of both African American literature and women’s studies.
Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow, and Other Forms of Racial Division
Examines racial segregation in literature and the cultural legacy of the Jim Crow era. As a touchstone issue in American history, segregation has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of most ethnic groups in the United States. Primarily associated with the Jim Crow South and the court cases Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), segregation comprises a diverse set of cultural practices, ethnic experiences, historical conditions, political ideologies, municipal planning schemes, and de facto social systems. Representing Segregation traces the effects of these practices on the literary imagination and proposes a distinct literary tradition of representing segregation. Contributors engage a cross section of writers, literary movements, segregation practices, and related experiences of racial division in order to demonstrate the richness and scope of responses to segregation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By taking up the cultural expression of the Jim Crow period and its legacies, this collection reorients literary analysis of an important body of African American literature in productive new directions.