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Exodus Politics

Civil Rights and Leadership in African American Literature and Culture

Robert J. Patterson

Using the term "exodus politics" to theorize the valorization of black male leadership in the movement for civil rights, Robert J. Patterson explores the ways in which the political strategies and ideologies of this movement paradoxically undermined the collective enfranchisement of black people. He argues that by narrowly conceptualizing civil rights in only racial terms and relying solely on a male figure, conventional African American leadership, though frequently redemptive, can also erode the very goals of civil rights.

The author turns to contemporary African American writers such as Ernest Gaines, Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, and Charles Johnson to show how they challenge the dominant models of civil rights leadership.

He draws on a variety of disciplines—including black feminism, civil rights history, cultural studies, and liberation theology—in order to develop a more nuanced formulation of black subjectivity and politics.

Patterson's connection of the concept of racial rights to gender and sexual rights allows him to illuminate the literature's promotion of more expansive models. By considering the competing and varied political interests of black communities, these writers reimagine the dominant models in a way that can empower communities to be self-sustaining in the absence of a messianic male leader.

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Extravagant Abjection

Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination

Darieck Scott

“A powerful theoretical statement in the emerging field of black queer studies, Extravagant Abjection makes the bold claim that it is necessary to work through and not simply to ‘white wash’ the political, social, ideological, and psychological consequences of what Darieck Scott names ‘black abjection.’ Building upon the insights of the more articulate practitioners of bondage and submission, Sadism and Masochism, Scott’s readings of key texts in twentieth century Black American literature are at once sophisticated, provocative, creative, and indeed titillating. This book will surely become a ‘dark’ classic.”

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F.B. Eyes

How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

William J. Maxwell

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.

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Fathers, Preachers, Rebels, Men

Black Masculinity in U.S. History and Literature, 1820-1945

Edited by Timothy R. Buckner and Peter Caster

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.

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The Fiction of Gloria Naylor

Houses and Spaces of Resistance

Maxine Lavon Montgomery

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.

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Fields Watered with Blood

Critical Essays on Margaret Walker

Maryemma Graham

Representing an international gathering of scholars, Fields Watered with Blood constitutes the first critical assessment of the full scope of Margaret Walker’s literary career. As they discuss Walker’s work, including the landmark poetry collection For My People and the novel Jubilee, the contributors reveal the complex interplay of concerns and themes in Walker’s writing: folklore and prophecy, place and space, history and politics, gender and race. In addition, the contributors remark on how Walker’s emphases on spirituality and on dignity in her daily life make themselves felt in her writings and show how Walker’s accomplishments as a scholar, teacher, activist, mother, and family elder influenced what and how she wrote.

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.”

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Finding a Way Home

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.

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Freedom Time

The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing

Anthony Reed

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.

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Freud Upside Down

African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture

Badia Sahar Ahad

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.

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Fugitive Testimony

On the Visual Logic of Slave Narratives

Janet Neary

Fugitive Testimony traces the long arc of the African American slave narrative from the18th century to the present in order to rethink the epistemological limits of the form and to theorize the complicated interplay between the visual and the literary throughout its history. Gathering an archive of ante- and postbellum literary slave narratives as well as contemporary visual art, Janet Neary brings visual and performance theory to bear on the genre’s central problematic: that the ex-slave narrator must be both object and subject of his or her own testimony. Taking works by current-day visual artists, including Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, and Ellen Driscoll, Neary employs their representational strategies to decode the visual work performed in 19th-century literary narratives by Elizabeth Keckley, Solomon Northup, William Craft, Henry Box Brown and others. She focuses on the textual visuality of these narratives to illustrate how their authors use the logic of the slave narrative against itself as a way to undermine the epistemology of the genre, and to offer a model of visuality as intersubjective recognition rather than objective division.

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