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Witness to the Journey
James Baldwin’s Later Fiction examines the decline of Baldwin’s reputation after the middle 1960s, his tepid reception in mainstream and academic venues, and the ways in which critics have often mis-represented and undervalued his work. Scott develops readings of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head that explore the interconnected themes in Baldwin’s work: the role of the family in sustaining the arts, the price of success in American society, and the struggle of black artists to change the ways that race, sex, and masculinity are represented in American culture.
Scott argues that Baldwin’s later writing crosses the cultural divide between the 1950s and 1960s in response to the civil rights and black power movements. Baldwin’s earlier works, his political activism and sexual politics, and traditions of African American autobiography and fiction all play prominent roles in Scott’s analysis.
Ralph Ellison in America
Three One-Act Plays Inspired by the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A trio of short dramas set in the South and spanning 1968 to the present, King Me features compelling characters and relevant themes that examine our ongoing understanding of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bound by Blood, #communicate, and Paradox in the Parish richly dramatize three of King’s popular quotes, offering creative methods for teaching history and social studies and setting the stage for inspiring discussions for contemporary theater goers. Readers and audiences will also learn about current civil rights issues such as the Jena Six Case in Jena, Louisiana, while appreciating, or appreciating anew, how King impacted the lives of his own and future generations.
Langston Hughes never knew of an America where lynching was absent from the cultural landscape. Jason Miller investigates the nearly three dozen poems written by Hughes on the subject of lynching to explore its varying effects on survivors, victims, and accomplices as they resisted, accepted, and executed this brutal form of sadistic torture.
Starting from Hughes's life as a teenager during the Red Summer of 1919 and moving through the civil rights movement that took place toward the end of Hughes's life, Miller initiates an important dialogue between America's neglected history of lynching and some of the world’s most significant poems.
This extended study of the centrality of these heinous acts to Hughes's artistic development, aesthetics, and activism represents a significant and long-overdue contribution to our understanding of the art and politics of Langston Hughes.
Narratology in the African Atlantic
Russell's in-depth analysis of the work of James Weldon Johnson, Audre Lorde, Michelle Cliff, Earl Lovelace, and John Edgar Wideman is framed in light of the West African aesthetic principle of àshe, a quality ascribed to art that transcends the prescribed boundaries of form. Àshe is linked to the characteristics of improvisation and flexibility that are central to jazz and other art forms. Russell argues that African Atlantic writers self-consciously and self-reflexively manipulate dominant forms that prescribe a certain trajectory of, for example, enlightenment, civilization, or progress. She connects this seemingly postmodern meta-analysis to much older West African philosophy and its African Atlantic iterations, which she calls the Legba Principle.”
Dorothy West and Her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West led a charmed life in many respects. Born into a distinguished Boston family, she appeared in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, then lived in the Soviet Union with a group that included Langston Hughes, to whom she proposed marriage. She later became friends with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who encouraged her to finish her second novel, The Wedding, which became the octogenarian author’s first bestseller.Literary Sisters reveals a different side of West’s personal and professional lives—her struggles for recognition outside of the traditional literary establishment, and her collaborations with talented African American women writers, artists, and performers who faced these same problems. West and her “literary sisters”—women like Zora Neale Hurston and West’s cousin, poet Helene Johnson—created an emotional support network that also aided in promoting, publishing, and performing their respective works. Integrating rare photos, letters, and archival materials from West’s life, Literary Sisters is not only a groundbreaking biography of an increasingly important author but also a vivid portrait of a pivotal moment for African American women in the arts.
The Tales of Jake Mitchell and Robert Wilton Burton
Between 1885 and 1894 The Montgomery Advertiser, The Birmingham-Age Herald, and The New Orleans Times Democrat featured a series of about 80 humorous black-dialect sketches by Robert Wilton Burton, a bookseller and writer from Auburn, Alabama. According to Burton, these tales were based on various characters in the black community of Auburn, and 36 of them were devoted exclusively to a character called "Marengo Jake." Probably originally from Virginia, Jake Mitchell was brought to the Drake Plantation in Marengo county as a boy in the 1850's. After the Civil War, the Drake family moved to Auburn and many former slaves followed, forming a fairly large expatriate Marengo County community. The theme of the stories, usually related by Jake, centers on the superiority of all things from Marengo County, especially over those in Lee County, in which Auburn is located.
Well known in her day as a singer, playwright, author, and editor of the Colored American Magazine, Pauline Hopkins (1859–1930) has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention over the last twenty years. Academic review of her many accomplishments, however, largely overlooks Hopkins’s contributions as novelist. The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins, the first book-length study of Hopkins’s major fiction, fills this gap, offering a sustained analysis of motherlessness in Contending Forces, Hagar’s Daughter, Winona, and Of One Blood. Motherlessness appears in all of Hopkins’s novels. The motif, Jill Bergman asserts, resonated profoundly for African Americans living with the legacy of abduction from a motherland and familial fragmentation under slavery. In her novels, motherlessness serves as a trope for the national alienation of post-Reconstruction African Americans. The longing and search for a maternal figure, then, represents an effort to reconnect with the absent mother—a missing parent and a lost African history and heritage. In Hopkins’s oeuvre, the image of the mother of African heritage—a source of both identity and persecution—becomes a source of power and possibility. Bergman shows how historical events—such as Bleeding Kansas, the execution of John Brown, and the Middle Passage—gave rise to a sense of motherlessness and how Hopkins’s work engages with that of other contemporaneous race activists. This illuminating study opens new terrain not only in Hopkins scholarship, but also in the complex interchanges between literary, African American, psychoanalytic, feminist, and postcolonial studies.