This article examines the theories of the black folk (those African Americans understood to constitute a folk group) as an economic, cultural, and literary category in the wartime writing of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. It rereads this work within the context of current scholarship that historicizes and contests the construction of the folk in folklore and literary theory and their applications. This article has a particular focus on the numerous and uncollected articles by Ellison and on the oral history narratives he recorded for the Federal Writers' Project. While both writers initially adopted a Marxist perspective on the folk, as defined by Wright's "Blueprint for Negro Writing" (1937), the work of Ellison and Wright diverged from this platform, though in radically different ways. Ellison's perspective developed to encompass a cultural nationalist position that was, in turn, deeply embedded in a pluralist and syncretic vision of American culture. In African American folk culture, Ellison limned a political agenda for activism. Wright, in contrast, aligned himself with the views of Gunnar Myrdal, which Ellison disputed. Recovering and delineating the ways in which Ellison's construction of the black folk ultimately diverges from that of Wright is a key element in the rereading of the cultural politics of wartime African American writing.


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pp. 257-283
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