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The first African American to publish a book on any subject, poet Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) has long been denigrated by literary critics who refused to believe that a black woman could produce such dense, intellectual work, let alone influence Romantic-period giants like Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson once declared that “the compositions published under her name are below dignity of criticism.” In recent decades, however, Wheatley’s work has come under new scrutiny as the literature of the eighteenth century and the impact of African American literature have been reconceived. In these never-before-published essays, fourteen prominent Wheatley scholars consider her work from a variety of angles, affirming her rise into the first rank of American writers. The pieces in the first section show that perhaps the most substantial measure of Wheatley’s multilayered texts resides in her deft handling of classical materials. The contributors consider Wheatley’s references to Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics and to the feminine figure Dido as well as her subversive critique of white readers attracted to her adaptation of familiar classics. They also discuss Wheatley’s use of the Homeric Trojan horse and eighteenth-century verse to mask her ambitions for freedom and her treatment of the classics as political tools. Engaging Wheatley’s multilayered texts with innovative approaches, the essays in the second section recontextualize her rich manuscripts and demonstrate how her late-eighteenth-century works remain both current and timeless. They ponder Wheatley’s verse within the framework of queer theory, the concepts of political theorist Hannah Arendt, rhetoric, African studies, eighteenth-century “salon culture,” and the theoretics of imagination. Together, these essays reveal the depth of Phillis Wheatley’s literary achievement and present concrete evidence that her extant oeuvre merits still further scrutiny.
Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America
Novel Bondage unravels the interconnections between marriage, slavery, and freedom through renewed readings of canonical nineteenth-century novels and short stories by black and white authors. Situating close readings of fiction alongside archival material concerning the actual marriages of authors such as Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, and Frank J. Webb, Chakkalakal examines how these early novels established literary conventions for describing the domestic lives of American slaves in describing their aspirations for personal and civic freedom. Exploring this theme in post-Civil War works by Frances E. W. Harper and Charles Chesnutt, she further reveals how the slave-marriage plot served as a fictional model for reforming marriage laws. Chakkalakal invites readers to rethink the "marital work" of nineteenth-century fiction and the historical role it played in shaping our understanding of the literary and political meaning of marriage, then and now.
Dickson D. Bruce argues that contrary to prevailing perceptions of African American voices as silenced and excluded from American history, those voices were loud and clear. Within the context of the wider culture, these writers offered powerful, widely read, and widely appreciated commentaries on American ideals and ambitions. The Origins of African American Literature provides strong evidence to demonstrate just how much writers engaged in a surprising number of dialogues with society as a whole.
Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry
Orpheus in the Bronx not only extols the freedom language affords us; it embodies that freedom, enacting poetry's greatest gift---the power to recognize ourselves as something other than what we are. These bracing arguments were written by a poet who sings. ---James Longenbach A highly acute writer, scholar, editor, and critic, Reginald Shepherd brings to his work the sensibilities of a classicist and a contemporary theorist, an inheritor of the American high modernist canon, and a poet drawing and playing on popular culture, while simultaneously venturing into formal experimentation. In the essays collected here, Shepherd offers probing meditations unified by a "resolute defense of poetry's autonomy, and a celebration of the liberatory and utopian possibilities such autonomy offers." Among the pieces included are an eloquent autobiographical essay setting out in the frankest terms the vicissitudes of a Bronx ghetto childhood; the escape offered by books and "gifted" status preserved by maternal determination; early loss and the equivalent of exile; and the formation of the writer's vocation. With the same frankness that he brings to autobiography, Shepherd also sets out his reasons for rejecting "identity politics" in poetry as an unnecessary trammeling of literary imagination. His study of the "urban pastoral," from Baudelaire through Eliot, Crane, and Gwendolyn Brooks, to Shepherd's own work, provides a fresh view of the place of urban landscape in American poetry. Throughout his essays---as in his poetry---Shepherd juxtaposes unabashed lyricism, historical awareness, and in-your-face contemporaneity, bristling with intelligence. A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.
"Washington writes supple and thoughtful prose and creatively integrates African and African-derived terminology, which never distract the reader. I consider Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts not only a brilliant study, but also a model to be emulated." -- Ousseynou B. Traore, William Patterson University
Literature, Modernity, and Diaspora
Paris has always fascinated and welcomed writers. Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, writers of American, Caribbean, and African descent were no exception. Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic considers the travels made to Paris—whether literally or imaginatively—by black writers. These collected essays explore the transatlantic circulation of ideas, texts, and objects to which such travels to Paris contributed. Editors Jeremy Braddock and Jonathan P. Eburne expand upon an acclaimed special issue of the journal Modern Fiction Studies with four new essays and a revised introduction. Beginning with W.E.B. Du Bois’s trip to Paris in 1900 and ending with the contemporary state of diasporic letters in the French capital, this collection embraces theoretical close readings, materialist intellectual studies of networks, comparative essays, and writings at the intersection of literary and visual studies. Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic is unique both in its focus on literary fiction as a formal and sociological category and in the range of examples it brings to bear on the question of Paris as an imaginary capital of diasporic consciousness.
Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt is a collection that reevaluates Chesnutt's deft manipulation of the "passing" theme to expand understanding of the author's fiction and nonfiction. Nine contributors apply a variety of theories---including intertextual, signifying/discourse analysis, narratological, formal, psychoanalytical, new historical, reader response, and performative frameworks---to add richness to readings of Chesnutt's works. Together the essays provide convincing evidence that "passing" is an intricate, essential part of Chesnutt's writing, and that it appears in all the genres he wielded: journal entries, speeches, essays, and short and long fiction. The essays engage with each other to display the continuum in Chesnutt's thinking as he began his writing career and established his sense of social activism, as evidenced in his early journal entries. Collectively, the essays follow Chesnutt's works as he proceeded through the Jim Crow era, honing his ability to manipulate his mostly white audience through the astute, though apparently self-effacing, narrator, Uncle Julius, of his popular conjure tales. Chesnutt's ability to subvert audience expectations is equally noticeable in the subtle irony of his short stories. Several of the collection's essays address Chesnutt's novels, including Paul Marchand, F.M.C. Mandy Oxendine The House Behind the Cedars and Evelyn's Husband . The volume opens up new paths of inquiry into a major African American writer's oeuvre.
Interviews with Charles Johnson
A rich portrait of one of America's most original and significant writers. Jim McWilliams has collected more than twenty interviews spanning Johnson's career. The manuscript contains virtually every important interview Johnson has given, presented chronologically.
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.