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Vol. 43 (2009) through current issue
As the official publication of the Division on Black American Literature and Culture of the Modern Language Association, the quarterly journal African American Review promotes a lively exchange among writers and scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences who hold diverse perspectives on African American literature and culture.
From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance
In identifying Jim Crow with the coming of modernity, Smethurst focuses on how artists reacted to the system’s racial territorialization, especially in urban areas, with migration narratives, poetry about the black experience, and black performance of popular culture forms such as ragtime and vaudeville. He shows how black writers such as Fenton Johnson and William Stanley Braithwaite circulated some of the earliest and strongest ideas about an American “bohemia.” Smethurst also upsets the customary assessment of the later Harlem Renaissance as the first and primary site of a nationally significant black arts movement by examining the influence of these earlier writers and artists on the black and white modernists who followed. In so doing, Smethurst brings forward a host of understudied figures while recontextualizing the work of canonical authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Weldon Johnson. As such, Smethurst positions his work as part of the current growing intellectual conversation about the nature of African American literature and culture between Reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance. Far from being a “nadir” period, Smethurst argues, this period saw black artists creating cultural forms from which issued some of the most significant literary works of the twentieth century.
Toni Morrison herself has long urged for organic critical readings of her works. K. Zauditu-Selassie delves deeply into African spiritual traditions, clearly explaining the meanings of African cosmology and epistemology as manifest in Morrison's novels. The result is a comprehensive, tour-de-force critical investigation of such works as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Paradise, Love, Beloved, and Jazz.
While others have studied the African spiritual ideas and values encoded in Morrison's work, African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison is the most comprehensive. Zauditu-Selassie explores a wide range of complex concepts, including African deities, ancestral ideas, spiritual archetypes, mythic trope, and lyrical prose representing African spiritual continuities.
Zauditu-Selassie is uniquely positioned to write this book, as she is not only a literary critic but also a practicing Obatala priest in the Yoruba spiritual tradition and a Mama Nganga in the Kongo spiritual system. She analyzes tensions between communal and individual values and moral codes as represented in Morrison's novels. She also uses interviews with and nonfiction written by Morrison to further build her critical paradigm.
From Plantations to the Slums
Costumbrismo, which refers to depictions of life in Latin America during the nineteenth century, introduced some of the earliest black themes in Cuban literature. Rafael Ocasio delves into this literature to offer up a new perspective on the development of Cuban identity, as influenced by black culture and religion, during the sugar cane boom.
Comments about the slave trade and the treatment of slaves were often censored in Cuban publications; nevertheless white Costumbrista writers reported on a vast catalogue of stereotypes, religious beliefs, and musical folklore, and on rich African traditions in major Cuban cities. Exploring rare and seldom discussed nineteenth-century texts, Ocasio offers insight into the nuances of black representation in Costumbrismo while analyzing authors such as Suárez y Romero, an abolitionist who wrote from the perspective of a plantation owner.
Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo expands the idea of what texts constitute Costumbrismo and debunks the traditional notion that this writing reveals little about the Afro-Cuban experience. The result is a novel examination of how white writers' representations of black culture heavily inform our current understanding of nineteenth-century Afro-Cuban culture and national identity.
Fiction of the Contemporary South
A provocative reckoning of the challenging new direction southern literature has taken in the works of nine authors
The literature of the contemporary South might best be understood for its discontinuity with the literary past. At odds with traditions of the Southern Renascence, southern literature of today sharply refutes the Nashville Agrarians and shares few of Faulkner's and Welty's concerns about place, community, and history.
This sweeping study of the literary South's new direction focuses on nine well established writers who, by breaking away from the firmly ensconced myths, have emerged as an iconoclastic generation- -- Harry Crews, Dorothy Allison, Bobbie Ann Mason, Larry Brown, Kaye Gibbons, Randall Kenan, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, and Barry Hannah. Resisting the modernist methods of the past, they have established their own postmodern ground beyond the shadow of their predecessors.
This shift in authorial perspective is a significant indicator of the future of southern writing. Crews's seminal role as a ground-breaking "poor white" author, Mason's and Crews's portrayals of rural life, and Allison's and Brown's frank portrayals of the lower class pose a challenge to traditional depictions of the South. The dissenting voices of Gibbons and Kenan, who focus on gender, race, and sexuality, create fiction that is at once identifiably "southern" and also distinctly subversive. Gibbons's iconoclastic stance toward patriarchy, like the outsider's critique of community found in Kenan's work, proffers a portrait of the South unprecedented in the region's literature. Ford, McCarthy, and Hannah each approach the South's traditional notions of history and community with new irreverence and treat familiar southern topics in a distinctly postmodern manner. Whether through Ford's generic consumer landscape, the haunted netherworld of McCarthy's southern novels, or Hannah's riotous burlesque of the Civil War, these authors assail the philosophical and cultural foundations from which the Southern Renascence arose.
Challenging the conventional conceptions of the southern canon, this is a provocative and innovative contribution to the region's literary study.
Matthew Guinn, formerly an instructor of English at the University of Mississippi, has published articles on southern literature in Southern Quarterly, South Atlantic Review, and Resources for American Literary Study.
American Fiction in the 1990s
The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics Across the Atlantic
Translation--from both a theoretical and practical point of view--articulates differing but interconnected modes of circulation in the work of writers originally from different geographical areas of transatlantic encounter, such as Europe, Latin America, North America, and the Caribbean. After Translation examines from a transnational perspective the various ways in which translation facilitates the circulation of modern poetry and poetics across the Atlantic. It rethinks the theoretical paradigm of Anglo-American "modernism" based on the transnational, interlingual and transhistorical features of the work of key modern poets writing at both sides of the Atlantic--namely, the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa; the Chilean Vicente Huidobro; the Spaniard Federico García Lorca; the San Francisco-based poets Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Robin Blaser; the Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite; and the Brazilian brothers Haroldo and Augusto de Campos.
The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction
Spencer focuses on distinct moments in the rise of critical space during the past century and relates them to the writing of Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt, Henri Lefebvre, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Paul Virilio. The systematic and genealogical encounter between critical theory and American fiction reveals close parallels between and original analyses of these two areas of twentieth-century cultural discourse.
Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations
This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.
Antebellum American Writers and the Movement to Abolish Capital Punishment
In Against the Gallows, Paul Christian Jones explores the intriguing cooperation of America’s writers—including major figures such as Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, E. D. E. N. Southworth, and Herman Melville—with reformers, politicians, clergymen, and periodical editors who attempted to end the practice of capital punishment in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s. In an age of passionate reform efforts, the antigallows movement enjoyed broad popularity, waging its campaign in legislatures, pulpits, newspapers, and literary journals.