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How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature
Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover’s white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI’s hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau’s intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem’s renaissance and Hoover’s career at the Bureau, secretive FBI “ghostreaders” monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover’s death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau’s close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.
Taking his title from Richard Wright’s poem “The FB Eye Blues,” Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau’s paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover’s ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets. For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.
Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.
Black Masculinity in U.S. History and Literature, 1820-1945
Fathers, Preachers, Rebels, Men: Black Masculinity in U.S. History and Literature, 1820–1945,edited by Timothy R. Buckner and Peter Caster, brings together scholars of history and literature focused on the lives and writing of black men during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States. The interdisciplinary study demonstrates the masculine character of cultural practices developed from slavery through segregation. Black masculinity embodies a set of contradictions, including an often mistaken threat of violence, the belief in its legitimacy, and the rhetorical union of truth and fiction surrounding slavery, segregation, resistance, and self-determination. The attention to history and literature is necessary because so many historical depictions of black men are rooted in fiction. The essays of this collection balance historical and literary accounts, and they join new descriptions of familiar figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and W. E. B. Du Bois with the less familiar but critically important William Johnson and Nat Love. The 2008 election of Barack Obama is a tremendously significant event in the vexed matter of race in the United States. However, the racial subtext of recent radical political movements and the 2009 arrest of scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., demonstrate that the perceived threat posed by black masculinity to the nation’s unity and vitality remains an alarming one in the cultural imagination.
Houses and Spaces of Resistance
The Fiction of Gloria Naylor is one of the very first critical studies of this acclaimed writer. Including an insightful interview with Naylor and focusing on her first four novels, the book situates various acts of insurgency throughout her work within a larger framework of African American opposition to hegemonic authority. But what truly distinguishes this volume is its engagement with African American vernacular forms and twentieth-century political movements. In her provocative analysis, Maxine Lavon Montgomery argues that Naylor constantly attempts to reconfigure the home and homespace to be more conducive to black self-actualization, thus providing a stark contrast to a dominant white patriarchy evident in a broader public sphere. Employing a postcolonial and feminist theoretical framework to analyze Naylor’s evolving body of work, Montgomery pays particular attention to black slave historiography, tales of conjure, trickster lore, and oral devices involving masking, word play, and code-switching—the vernacular strategies that have catapulted Naylor to the vanguard of contemporary African American letters. Montgomery argues for the existence of home as a place that is not exclusively architectural or geographic in nature. She posits that in Naylor’s writings home exists as an intermediate space embedded in cultural memory and encoded in the vernacular. Home closely resembles a highly symbolic, signifying system bound with vexed issues of racial sovereignty as well as literary authority. Through a re-inscription of the subversive, frequently clandestine acts of resistance on the part of the border subject—those outside the dominant culture—Naylor recasts space in such a way as to undermine reader expectation and destabilize established models of dominance, influence, and control. Thoroughly researched and sophisticated in its approach, The Fiction of Gloria Naylor will be essential reading for scholars and students of African American, American, and Africana Literary and Cultural studies.
Critical Essays on Margaret Walker
A brief biography, an interview with literary critic Claudia Tate, a chronology of major events in Walker’s life, and a selected bibliography round out this collection, which will do much to further our understanding of the writer whom poet Nikki Giovanni once called the most famous person nobody knows.”
A Critical Assessment of Walter Mosley's Fiction
Essays by Owen E. Brady, Kelly C. Connelly, Juan F. Elices, Keith Hughes, Derek C. Maus, Jerrilyn McGregory, Laura Quinn, Francesca Canadé Sautman, Daniel Stein, Lisa B. Thompson, Terrence Tucker, and Albert U. Turner, Jr. In Finding a Way Home, thirteen essays by scholars from four countries trace Walter Mosley's distinctive approach to representing African American responses to the feeling of homelessness in an inhospitable America. Mosley (b. 1952) writes frequently of characters trying to construct an idea of home and wrest a sense of dignity, belonging, and hope from cultural and communal resources. These essays examine Mosley's queries about the meaning of "home" in various social and historical contexts. Essayists consider the concept--whether it be material, social, cultural, or virtual--in all three of Mosley's detective/crime fiction series (Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow, and Fearless Jones), his three books of speculative fiction, two of his "literary" novels (RL's Dream, The Man in My Basement), and in his recent social and political nonfiction. Essays here explore Mosley's modes of expression, his testing of the limitations of genre, his political engagement in prose, his utopian/dystopian analyses, and his uses of parody and vernacular culture. Finding a Way Home provides rich discussions, explaining the development of Mosley's work.
The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing
Standard literary criticism tends to either ignore or downplay the unorthodox tradition of black experimental writing that emerged in the wake of protests against colonization and Jim Crow–era segregation. Histories of African American literature likewise have a hard time accounting for the distinctiveness of experimental writing, which is part of a general shift in emphasis among black writers away from appeals for social recognition or raising consciousness. In Freedom Time—the second book to appear in the Callaloo African Diaspora Series—Anthony Reed offers a theoretical reading of "black experimental writing" that understands the term both as a profound literary development and as a concept with which to analyze the ways that writing challenges us to rethink the relationships between race and literary techniques. Through extended analyses of works by African American and Afro-Caribbean writers—including N. H. Pritchard, Suzan-Lori Parks, NourbeSe Philip, Kamau Brathwaite, Claudia Rankine, Douglas Kearney, Harryette Mullen, and Nathaniel Mackey—Reed develops a new sense of the literary politics of formally innovative writing and the connections between literature and politics since the 1960s. Freedom Time reclaims the power of experimental black voices by arguing that, if literature fundamentally serves the human need for freedom in expression, then readers and critics must see it as more than a mere reflection of the politics of social protest and identity formation. With an approach informed by literary, cultural, African American, and feminist studies, Reed shows how reworking literary materials and conventions liberates writers to push the limits of representation and expression.
African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture
This thought-provoking cultural history explores how psychoanalytic theories shaped the works of important African American literary figures. Badia Sahar Ahad details how Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, Adrienne Kennedy, and Danzy Senna employed psychoanalytic terms and conceptual models to challenge notions of race and racism in twentieth-century America._x000B__x000B_Freud Upside Down explores the relationship between these authors and intellectuals and the psychoanalytic movement emerging in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. Examining how psychoanalysis has functioned as a cultural phenomenon within African American literary intellectual communities since the 1920s, Ahad lays out the historiography of the intersections between literature and psychoanalysis and considers the creative approaches of African American writers to psychological thought in their work and their personal lives.
The Poetics and Politics of Modernism
After the Second World War Gertrude Stein asked a friend's support in securing a visa for Richard Wright to visit Paris.
"I've got to help him, she said. You see, we are both members of a minority group."
The brief, little-noted friendship of Stein and Wright began in 1945 with a letter. Over the next fifteen months, the two kept up a lively correspondence which culminated in Wright's visit to Paris in May 1946 and ended with Stein's death a few months later.
Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright began their careers as marginals within marginalized groups, and their desire to live peacefully in unorthodox marriages led them away from America and into permanent exile in France. Still the obvious differences between them-in class, ethnic and racial origins, and in artistic expression-beg the question: What was there to talk about? This question opens a window onto each writer's meditations on the influence of racial, ethnic, national origins on the formation of identity in a modern and post-modern world.
The intuitive and intellectual affinities between Stein and Wright are illuminated in several works of non-fiction. Stein's Paris France and Wright's Pagan Spain are meditations on expatriation and creativity. Their so-called homecoming narratives-Stein's Everybody's Autobiography and Wright's Black Power --examine concepts of racial and national identity in a post-modernist world. Respectively in Lectures in America and White Man, Listen! Stein and Wright outline the ways in which the poetics and politics of modernism are inextricably bound.
At the close of the twentieth century the meditations of Stein and Wright on the protean quality of individual identity and its artistic, social, and political expression explore the most prescient and pressing issues of our time and beyond.
M. Lynn Weiss is an assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Washington University.
More than 200,000 African American soldiers fought in World War I, and returning troops frequently spoke of "color-blind" France. Such cosmopolitan experiences, along with the brutal, often desegregated no-man's-land between the trenches, forced African American artists and writers to reexamine their relationship to mainstream (white) American culture.
The war represented a seminal moment for African Americans, and in the 1920s and 1930s it became a touchstone for such diverse cultural concerns as the pan-African impulse, the burgeoning civil rights movement, and the redefinition of black masculinity.
In examining the legacy of the Great War on African American culture, Mark Whalan considers the work of such canonical writers as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Alain Locke. In addition, he considers the legacy of the war for African Americans as represented in film, photography, and anthropology, with a particular focus on the photographer James VanDerZee.
Apartheid-Era African American and South African Writing
Part literary history, part cultural study, Grounds of Engagement examines the relationships and exchanges between black South African and African American writers who sought to create common ground throughout the antiapartheid era. Stéphane Robolin argues that the authors' geographic imaginations crucially defined their individual interactions and, ultimately, the literary traditions on both sides of the Atlantic. Subject to the tyranny of segregation, authors such as Richard Wright, Bessie Head, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Michelle Cliff, and Richard Rive charted their racialized landscapes and invented freer alternative geographies. They crafted rich representations of place to challenge the stark social and spatial arrangements that framed their lives. Those representations, Robolin contends, also articulated their desires for black transnational belonging and political solidarity. The first book to examine U.S. and South African literary exchanges in spatial terms, Grounds of Engagement identifies key moments in this understudied history of black cross-cultural exchange, exposing how geography serves as an indispensable means of shaping and reshaping modern racial meaning.