Essays that honor the achievement of African American writers from the Enlightenment to the present
African American Writing
A Literary Approach
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Werner Sollors' African American Writing takes a fresh look at what used to be called "Negro literature." The essays collected here, ranging in topic from Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, and in time from the Enlightenment to the Obama presidency, take a literary approach to black writing and present writers as readers and as intellectuals who were or are open to the world.
From W.E.B. Du Bois commenting on Richard Wagner and Elvis Presley, to Zora Neale Hurston attacking Brown v. Board of Ed. in a segregationist newspaper, to Charles Chesnutt's effigy darkened for the black heritage postage stamp, Sollors alternates between close readings and broader cultural contextualizations to delineate the various aesthetic modes and intellectual exchanges that shaped a series of striking literary works.
Readers will make often-surprising discoveries in the authors' writing and in their encounters and dialogues with others. The essays, accompanied by Winold Reiss's pastels, Carl Van Vechten's photographs, and other portraits, attempt to honor this important literature's achievement, heterogeneity, and creativity.
"The strengths of these essays are the hallmark of Werner Sollors's work: the exhaustive research and synthetic quality of his thinking. Rarely has any one scholar conducted such careful, painstakingly thorough research of African American literature and history. But most important and perhaps best illustrated in the essays on Charles W. Chesnutt, Adrienne Kennedy, Jean Toomer, and W. E. B. Du Bois is how Sollors's analysis of any work includes and synthesizes formal and thematic features of American and world literature; for Sollors, the literature produced by descendants of African slaves in the United States cannot be understood in isolation from the multiracial and multicultural world in which it has its origins. The quality and quantity of Sollors's work has elevated and inspired the study of African American literature, not only in the United States but also throughout the world."—M. Lynn Weiss, Associate Professor of English and American Studies at the College of William and Mary and the author of Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism
"[Sollors] assembles 12 previously published essays that collectively offer an illuminating and fresh introduction to African-American writers. Together, they constitute a cohesive vision of major writers from the 18th through the 20th century. Sollors's aim is not a general history but to show his subjects 'as readers and as intellectuals who were open to the world.' Artful biographies and synopses contribute to the work's general accessibility. At one point, Sollors quotes Jean Toomer on one of Toomer's short stories: 'Most people cannot see this story because of the inhibitory baggage they bring with them.' In reading these writers as creators and peers of their artistic contemporaries, Sollors lightens that inhibitory baggage as he enlightens the reader."—Publishers Weekly
Werner Sollors is Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Research Professor of English Literature at Harvard University and Global Professor of Literature at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is the co-editor (with Greil Marcus) of A New Literary History of America and the author of Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature, and The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s.