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African American Review

Vol. 43 (2009) through current issue

African American Review is a scholarly aggregation of insightful essays on African American literature, theatre, film, the visual arts, and culture; interviews; poetry; fiction; and book reviews. The Review has featured renowned writers and cultural critics including Trudier Harris, Arnold Rampersad, Hortense Spillers, Amiri Baraka, Cyrus Cassells, Rita Dove, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. The official publication of the Modern Language Association's Divison on Black American Literature and Culture, African American Review fosters a vigorous conversation on African American literature and culture among writers and scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

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African American Roots of Modernism

From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance

James Smethurst

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.

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African American Travel Narratives from Abroad

Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow

Gary Totten

During the Jim Crow era, African American travelers faced the prospects of violence, harassment, and the denial of services, especially as they made their way throughout the American South. Those who journeyed outside the United States found not only a political and social context that was markedly different from America’s, but in their international mobility, they also discovered new ways of identifying themselves in relation to others. In this book, Gary Totten examines the global travel narratives of a diverse set of African American writers, including Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, Matthew Henson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Zora Neale Hurston. While these writers deal with issues of identity in relation to a reimagined sense of self—in a way that we might expect to find in travel narratives—they also push against the constraints and conventions of the genre, reconsidering discourses of tourism, ethnography, and exploration. This book not only offers new insights about African American writers and mobility, it also charts the ideological distinctions and divergent agendas within this group of writers. Totten demonstrates how these travelers and their writings challenged dominant ideologies about African American experience, expression, and identity in a period of escalating racial violence. By setting these texts in their historical context and within the genre of travel writing, Totten presents a nuanced understanding of both popular and recovered work of the period.

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African Diasporic Women's Narratives

Politics of Resistance, Survival, and Citizenship

Simone A. James Alexander

Using feminist and womanist theory, Simone Alexander takes as her main point of analysis literary works that focus on the black female body as the physical and metaphorical site of migration. She shows that over time black women have used their bodily presence to complicate and challenge a migratory process often forced upon them by men or patriarchal society.

Through in-depth study of selective texts by Audre Lorde, Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Condé, and Grace Nichols, Alexander challenges the stereotypes ascribed to black female sexuality, subverting its assumed definition as diseased, passive, or docile. She also addresses issues of embodiment as she analyses how women’s bodies are read and seen; how bodies “perform” and are performed upon; how they challenge and disrupt normative standards.

A multifaceted contribution to studies of gender, race, sexuality and disability issues, African Diasporic Women’s Narratives engages with a range of issues as it grapples with the complex interconnectedness of geography, citizenship, and nationalism.

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African Folktales

Paul Radin

A representative collection of eighty-one myths and folktales chosen from the oral tradition of the peoples of Africa south of the Sahara.

Originally published in 1970.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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African Literature and the Future

Gbemisola Adeoti

Many African countries achieved independence from their colonisers over five decades ago, but the people and the continent largely remain mere spectators in the arena of their own dance. The post-independence states are supposed to be sovereign, but the levers of economic and political powers still reside in the donor states. Not in many fora is the complex reality that defines Africa more trenchantly articulated than in imaginative literature produced about and on the continent. This is the crux of the essays collected in African Literature and the Future. The book reflects on Africa�s past and present, addressing anxieties about the future through the epistemological lens of literature. The contributors peep ahead from a backward glance. They dissect the trend and tenor of politics and their impact on the socio-cultural and economic development of the continent as portrayed in imaginative writings over the years. One salient feature of African literature is the close affinity between art and politics in its polemics. This is well established in all the six essays in the book as the authors stress the interconnections between literature and society in their textual analyses. On the whole, there is an overwhelming feeling of angst and pessimism, but the authors perceive a glimmer of hope despite daunting odds, under different conditions. Thus, they depict the plausible fate of Africa in the twenty-first century, as informed by its ancient and recent past, gleaned from primary texts.

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African Literature: Gender Discourse, Religious Values, and the African Worldview

How do we resolve the insider/outsider interpreting conundrum? Why do readers from different parts of the world read, interpret, or understand foreign literatures the way they do? What drives peculiar critical reactions, canon formations and such issues which determine the survival of cultural productions or their continued adoption as useful bolsters for a people's self-definition or indeed self-preservation and self-determination? African Literature: Gender Discourse, Religious Values, and the African Worldview offers a series of fresh insights into most of the old "problematics" which used to sustain the interpretations of African literature, especially by women. Students, scholars, and general readers wishing to consider issues of gender in relation to African cultural and socioeconomic systems and what Salami-Boukari interrogates and names as an "African worldview," will find the interdisciplinary discussion of historical analyses, literary criticism and gender discourses a useful method for engaging contemporary African perspectives.

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African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison

K. Zauditu-Selassie

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.

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Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo

From Plantations to the Slums

Rafael Ocasio

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.

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Afro-Cuban Tales

Lydia Cabrera

As much a storyteller as an ethnographer, Lydia Cabrera was captivated by a strange and magical new world revealed to her by her Afro-Cuban friends in early twentieth-century Havana. In Afro-Cuban Tales this world comes to teeming life, introducing English-speaking readers to a realm of tenuous boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, deities and mortals, the spiritual and the seemingly inanimate.

Here readers will find a vibrant, imaginative record of African culture transplanted to Cuba and transformed over time, a passionate and subversive alternative to the dominant Western culture of the Americas. In this charmed realm of myth and legend, imaginative flights, and hard realities, Cabrera shows us a world turned upside down. In this domain guinea hens can make dour Asturians and the king of Spain dance; little fat cooking pots might prepare their own meals; the pope can send encyclicals about pumpkins; and officials can be defeated by the shrewdness of turtles. The first English translation of one of the most important writers on African culture in the Americas, the collection provides a fascinating view of how African traditions, myths, stories, and religions traveled to the New World—of how, in their tales, Africans in the Americas created a New World all their own.

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