- Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States ed. by James J. Donahue, Jennifer Ann Ho, and Shaun Morgan
“For most of their history,” Christopher González writes, “ethnic literatures of the United States have often been viewed by scholars, book sellers, [End Page 346] and audiences through the lens of the author’s identity” (31). Attention to identity, including the important work of contextualizing narratives socially, politically, and culturally, has often come at the cost of formal study of narrative. As James J. Donahue explains in his introduction to Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States, “only recently have there been attempts not merely to discuss issues of race and ethnicity in narratives (print, film, and television), but to explore how race and ethnicity might force us to reconsider what we know about the nature of narrative” (3). The essays in this volume collectively imagine what the editors term a “critical race narratology” by illuminating the ethnic and racial tensions at the heart of a field that conventionally “assumes a white, male, heterosexual, Euro-American subject” (Romagnolo 43). Crediting feminist narratologists, who modeled a contextualist approach to narrative study, the volume’s editors insist on a paradigm shift: “a critical race narratology must be more than the application of existing tools to the study of race and ethnicity (Donahue 3–4). The collected essays aim to retool narratology to recognize race and ethnicity as central to narrative form.
The editors’ interest in positioning race, ethnicity, and indigeneity as foundational to studies of narrative is not new. In fact, Donahue opens his introduction to the volume by citing Toni Morrison’s call in Playing in the Dark (1992) for literary critics to disrupt the default whiteness of literary studies. Donahue notes that “Morrison’s work provides a thoughtful and insightful study of race in American fiction and has inspired a generation of scholars to study the complexities of race and ethnicity in American literature. However, much (though certainly not all) of this work focuses its attention on the study of literary texts as cultural artifacts, as representations of moments of cultural diversity in the United States” (1). This volume, then, builds on years of scholarship critiquing the ethnographic focus of literary approaches to African American, Asian American, Latina/o, and American Indian narratives. Sue J. Kim gestures toward such work in the collection’s first chapter, an overview of early Asian Americanist scholarship and its uneven relationship to narratology, as does González in his survey of Latina/o literature in chapter two. American Indian and First Nations scholars have also explored, for at least the last two decades, how Indigenous knowledge and nationhood permeate not just the content, but also the form and theories of literature. Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States realizes a shared goal of these critical projects—one Morrison articulated almost thirty years ago—in making race, ethnicity, and Indigeneity foundational to the means, not just the subject, of literary inquiry.
The volume offers a refreshingly tight focus on narratology and a sustained, polyvocal effort to articulate what critical race narratology might look like. The collection’s fourteen chapters, framed by editors’ essays, range in scope from Kim’s and González’s field-level surveys to the text-specific analyses which make up the bulk of the volume. While the narratives under investigation are primarily from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, they represent fields of American literature that are not always in dialogue with each other. The essays offer broad coverage, including narratives from African American, Native American, Latina/o, Asian American, and queer literatures, always with an eye toward the internal diversity represented by each of those fields.
Six African American writers are considered in the collection, including Morrison, James Baldwin, Ann Petry, Ralph Ellison, Teju Cole, and Percival Everett. Christian Schmidt’s “Postblack Unnatural Narrative—Or, Is the Implied Author of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier Black?,” for instance, exemplifies the...