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Literature > American Literature > African American Literature

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Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture Cover

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Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture

W. Jason Miller

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.

Legba's Crossing Cover

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Legba's Crossing

Narratology in the African Atlantic

Heather Russell

In Haiti, Papa Legba is the spirit whose permission must be sought to communicate with the spirit world. He stands at and for the crossroads of language, interpretation, and form and is considered to be like the voice of a god. In Legba's Crossing, Heather Russell examines how writers from the United States and the anglophone Caribbean challenge conventional Western narratives through innovative use, disruption, and reconfiguration of form.

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.”

Literary Sisters Cover

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Literary Sisters

Dorothy West and Her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance

Verner D. Mitchell and Cynthia Davis

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 Marengo Jake Stories Cover

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The Marengo Jake Stories

The Tales of Jake Mitchell and Robert Wilton Burton

Written by Jake Mitchell and Robert Wilton Burton, collected and with an introdu

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Neither Fugitive nor Free Cover

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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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