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Literature > American Literature > African American Literature

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The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins Cover

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The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins

Jill Bergman

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.

Mulattas and Mestizas Cover

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Mulattas and Mestizas

Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850-2000

Suzanne Bost

In this broadly conceived exploration of how people represent identity in the Americas, Suzanne Bost argues that mixture has been central to the definition of race in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean since the nineteenth century. Her study is particularly relevant in an era that promotes mixed-race musicians, actors, sports heroes, and supermodels as icons of a "new" America. Bost challenges the popular media's notion that a new millennium has ushered in a radical transformation of American ethnicity; in fact, this paradigm of the "changing" face of America extends throughout American history.

Working from literary and historical accounts of mulattas, mestizas, and creoles, Bost analyzes a tradition, dating from the nineteenth century, of theorizing identity in terms of racial and sexual mixture. By examining racial politics in Mexico and the United States; racially mixed female characters in Anglo-American, African American, and Latina narratives; and ideas of mixture in the Caribbean, she ultimately reveals how the fascination with mixture often corresponds to racial segregation, sciences of purity, and white supremacy. The racism at the foundation of many nineteenth-century writings encourages Bost to examine more closely the subtexts of contemporary writings on the "browning" of America.

Original and ambitious in scope, Mulattas and Mestizas measures contemporary representations of mixed-race identity in the United States against the history of mixed-race identity in the Americas. It warns us to be cautious of the current, millennial celebration of mixture in popular culture and identity studies, which may, contrary to all appearances, mask persistent racism and nostalgia for purity.

The Muse in Bronzeville Cover

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The Muse in Bronzeville

African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950

Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage

The Muse in Bronzeville, a dynamic reappraisal of a neglected period in African American cultural history, is the first comprehensive critical study of the creative awakening that occurred on Chicago's South Side from the early 1930s to the cold war. Coming of age during the hard Depression years and in the wake of the Great Migration, this generation of Black creative artists produced works of literature, music, and visual art fully comparable in distinction and scope to the achievements of the Harlem Renaissance.

This highly informative and accessible work, enhanced with reproductions of paintings of the same period, examines Black Chicago's "Renaissance" through richly anecdotal profiles of such figures as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Charles White, Gordon Parks, Horace Cayton, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, and Katherine Dunham. Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage make a powerful case for moving Chicago's Bronzeville, long overshadowed by New York's Harlem, from a peripheral to a central position within African American and American studies.

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My Dear Boy

Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes, 1926-1938

Carmeletta M. Williams

My Dear Boy brings a largely unexplored dimension of Langston Hughes to light. Carmaletta Williams and John Edgar Tidwell explain that scholars have neglected the vital role that correspondence between Carrie Hughes and her son Langston—Harlem Renaissance icon, renowned poet, playwright, fiction writer, autobiographer, and essayist—played in his work.

The more than 120 heretofore unexamined letters presented here are a veritable treasure trove of insights into the relationship between mother Carrie and her renowned son Langston. Until now, a scholarly consensus had begun to emerge, accepting the idea of their lives and his art as simple and transparent. But as Williams and Tidwell argue, this correspondence is precisely where scholars should start in order to understand the underlying complexity in Carrie and Langston’s relationship. By employing Family Systems Theory for the first time in Hughes scholarship, they demonstrate that it is an essential heuristic for analyzing the Hughes family and its influence on his work. The study takes the critical truism about Langston’s reticence to reveal his inner self and shows how his responses to Carrie were usually not in return letters but, instead, in his created art. Thus My Dear Boy reveals the difficult negotiations between family and art that Langston engaged in as he attempted to sustain an elusive but enduring artistic reputation.

Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars Cover

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Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars

A New Pandoraâ??s Box

During and after the Harlem Renaissance, two intellectual forces --nationalism and Marxism--clashed and changed the future of African American writing. Current literary thinking says that writers with nationalist leanings wrote the most relevant fiction, poetry, and prose of the day. Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature Between the Wars: A New Pandora's Box challenges that notion. It boldly proposes that such writers as A. Philip Randolph, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright, who often saw the world in terms of class struggle, did more to advance the anti-racist politics of African American letters than writers such as Countee Cullen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Alain Locke, and Marcus Garvey, who remained enmeshed in nationalist and racialist discourse. Evaluating the great impact of Marxism and nationalism on black authors from the Harlem Renaissance and the Depression era, Anthony Dawahare argues that the spread of nationalist ideologies and movements between the world wars did guide legitimate political desires of black writers for a world without racism. But the nationalist channels of political and cultural resistance did not address the capitalist foundation of modern racial discrimination. During the period known as the "Red Decade" (1929-1941), black writers developed some of the sharpest critiques of the capitalist world and thus anticipated contemporary scholarship on the intellectual and political hazards of nationalism for the working class. As it examines the progression of the Great Depression, the book focuses on the shift of black writers to the Communist Left, including analyses of the Communists' position on the "Negro Question," the radical poetry of Langston Hughes, and the writings of Richard Wright. Anthony Dawahare is an associate professor of English at California State University, Northridge. He has been published in African American Review, MELUS, Twentieth-Century Literature, and Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature, and the Arts.

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Neither Fugitive nor Free

Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel

Edlie Wong

Neither Fugitive nor Free draws on the freedom suit as recorded in the press and court documents to offer a critically and historically engaged understanding of the freedom celebrated in the literary and cultural histories of transatlantic abolitionism. Freedom suits involved those enslaved valets, nurses, and maids who accompanied slaveholders onto free soil. Once brought into a free jurisdiction, these attendants became informally free, even if they were taken back to a slave jurisdiction—at least according to abolitionists and the enslaved themselves. In order to secure their freedom formally, slave attendants or others on their behalf had to bring suit in a court of law.

Edlie Wong critically recuperates these cases in an effort to reexamine and redefine the legal construction of freedom, will, and consent. This study places such historically central anti-slavery figures as Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, and William Lloyd Garrison alongside such lesser-known slave plaintiffs as Lucy Ann Delaney, Grace, Catharine Linda, Med, and Harriet Robinson Scott. Situated at the confluence of literary criticism, feminism, and legal history, Neither Fugitive nor Free presents the freedom suit as a "new" genre to African American and American literary studies.

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Neo-Segregation Narratives

Jim Crow in Post-Civil Rights American Literature

Brian Norman

This study of what Brian Norman terms a neo–segregation narrative tradition examines literary depictions of life under Jim Crow that were written well after the civil rights movement.

From Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, to bestselling black fiction of the 1980s to a string of recent work by black and nonblack authors and artists, Jim Crow haunts the post–civil rights imagination. Norman traces a neo–segregation narrative tradition—one that developed in tandem with neo–slave narratives—by which writers return to a moment of stark de jure segregation to address contemporary concerns about national identity and the persistence of racial divides. These writers upset dominant national narratives of achieved equality, portraying what are often more elusive racial divisions in what some would call a postracial present.

Norman examines works by black writers such as Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, David Bradley, Wesley Brown, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Colson Whitehead, films by Spike Lee, and other cultural works that engage in debates about gender, Black Power, blackface minstrelsy, literary history, and whiteness and ethnicity. Norman also shows that multiethnic writers such as Sherman Alexie and Tom Spanbauer use Jim Crow as a reference point, extending the tradition of William Faulkner’s representations of the segregated South and John Howard Griffin’s notorious account of crossing the color line from white to black in his 1961 work Black Like Me.

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New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000

Barbara Christian

New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000 collects a selection of essays and reviews from Barbara Christian, one of the founding voices in black feminist literary criticism. Published between the release of her second landmark book Black Feminist Criticism and her death, these writings include eloquent reviews, evaluations of black feminist criticism as a discipline, reflections on black feminism in the academy, and essays on Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others.

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New Essays on Phillis Wheatley

Edited by John C. Shields and Eric D. Lamore

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.

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A Nickel and a Prayer

Jane Edna Hunter, Edited by Rhondda Robinson Thomas, with a foreword by Joycelyn Moody

Virtually unknown outside of her adopted hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Jane Edna Harris Hunter was one of the most influential African American social activists of the early-to mid-twentieth century. In her autobiography A Nickel and a Prayer, Hunter presents an enlightening two-part narrative that recollects her formative years in post-Civil War South and her activist years in Cleveland. First published in 1940, Hunter’s autobiography recalls a childhood filled with the pleasures and pains of family life on the former plantation where her ancestors had toiled, adventures and achievements in schools for African American children, tests and trials during her brief marriage, and recognition and respect while completing nursing training and law school. When sharing the story of her life as an activist, Hunter describes the immense obstacles she overcame while developing an interracial coalition to support the Phillis Wheatley Association and nurturing its growth from a rented home that provided accommodation for twenty-two women to a nine-story building that featured one hundred and thirty-five rooms.   
This new and annotated edition of A Nickel and a Prayer includes the final chapter, “Fireside Musings,” that Hunter added to the second, limited printing of her autobiography and an introduction that lauds her as a multifaceted social activist who not only engaged in racial uplift work, but impacted African American cultural production, increased higher education opportunities for women, and invigorated African American philanthropy. This important text restores Jane Edna Harris Hunter to her rightful place among prominent African American race leaders of the twentieth century.

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