Editor's Introduction: African American Identities

By Kolin, Philip C. | Southern Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Editor's Introduction: African American Identities


Kolin, Philip C., Southern Quarterly


In August, Dr. Steven Moser, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, asked me to take up the duties of the editor of the Southern Quarterly when Douglas Chambers stepped down after six fruitful years in the post. I was honored by Dean Moser 's invitation and look forward to continuing the tradition of scholarly excellence for which the Southern Quarterly has been acclaimed nationally and internationally. I do not come to the editorship without a long-standing appreciation for and knowledge of what previous editors have done. For the last six years, I served on the editorial board of the journal; and over the last decade or so I guest-edited three special issues of the Southern Quarterly, two on Tennessee Williams and one on the "Legacy of Emmett Till." In the 1980s, I interviewed Jane Reid Petty, the director of New Stage Theatre, for the journal, and in 1974, 1 published one of my first scholarly essays when the Southern Quarterly was only 12 years old.

Today, as the journal nears its jubilee anniversary, it remains a pioneer publication in shaping and defining Southern Studies. The Southern Quarterly fulfills Fred Hobson's charge, about the region and the discipline, to "tell about the South." But the idea of what constitutes the South in 2012 is very different than the South conceived in 1962 when the Southern Quarterly began publication. The South has been globalized. As Kathryn McKee and Annette Trefzer eloquently put it, the "global reflects] simultaneously the importation of the world to the South and the exportation of the South to the world" (American Literature [Dec. 2006]: 679). Southern boundaries, history, traditions, religion, art, music, sexuality, fiction, poetry, films, landscapes, and foodways have been, represented, reinterpreted, and reincarnated by cultures far removed, geographically or politically, from such Southern citadels as Natchez, New Orleans, Mobile, Jackson, Memphis, Charleston, Atlanta, or Richmond. The South now extends to the Caribbean and, in the process, celebrates the influence of African Diaspora. A sense of place and time, once rooted in an agricultural world, has long since been supplanted by a new and expanded view of what the South variously means, says, does, and defines. In fact, Southern Studies explore the indeterminacy of place and time, releasing voices of anxiety, protest, and emancipation. As the Southern Quarterly continues into its next decade, I believe the scholarship published in the journal will engage in an even more expansive discourse about what is, or is not, or could be Southern.

What will not change is the Southern Quarterly's commitment to publishing the most carefully researched scholarship in Southern Studies and the rich, sometimes provocative, sometimes revisionist, history that needs to be told, or retold. Also crucial to the journal's continuing success is drawing upon and combining insights from the numerous disciplines that, collectively, shed light on the South, its identity, its influence, its memory, and its transformations, be they history, literature, anthropology, political science, art, religion, economics, photography, film, or sociology. But just as previous editors have incorporated their vision into what the Southern Quarterly should do or be, under my tenure as editor I want to emphasize both the globalization of the South and an appreciation of the arts even more by giving special attention to original creative work that emerges from and represents all things Southern, e.g., poetry, painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, food, and music.

This current issue devoted to African American Identities reflects my vision for the Southern Quarterly. It begins with three articles on African American novelists-Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, and Shirley Anne Williams-whose fiction concentrates on identity, empowerment, and the way the South, whether antebellum or contemporary, creates and participates in the agon that many black characters go through to find self.

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