South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature

South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature

South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature

South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature


With characteristic originality and insight, Trudier Harris-Lopez offers a new and challenging approach to the work of African American writers in these twelve previously unpublished essays. Collectively, the essays show the vibrancy of African American literary creation across several decades of the twentieth century. But Harris-Lopez's readings of the various texts deliberately diverge from traditional ways of viewing traditional topics.

South of Tradition focuses not only on well-known writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, but also on up-and-coming writers such as Randall Kenan and less-known writers such as Brent Wade and Henry Dumas. Harris-Lopez addresses themes of sexual and racial identity, reconceptualizations of and transcendence of Christianity, analyses of African American folk and cultural traditions, and issues of racial justice. Many of her subjects argue that geography shapes identity, whether that geography is the European territory many blacks escaped to from the oppressive South, or the South itself, where generations of African Americans have had to come to grips with their relationship to the land and its history. For Harris-Lopez, "south of tradition" refers both to geography and to readings of texts that are not in keeping with expected responses to the works. She explains her point of departure for the essays as "a slant, an angle, or a jolt below the line of what would be considered the norm for usual responses to African American literature."

The scope of Harris-Lopez's work is tremendous. From her coverage of noncanonical writers to her analysis of humor in the best-selling The Color Purple, she provides essential material that should inform all future readings of African American literature.


Attempting to account for how one comes to a particular scholarly project is perhaps comparable to viewing one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings. You know there is a pattern there, but it reveals itself only upon intense reflection. the twelve essays included in this volume were written—and rewritten—over a fourteen-year period. They reflect a range of my thoughts on African American literature and culture. in some cases, I was inspired to develop an idea about a work because I had recently read or reread it, as happened when I read Brent Wade’s Company Man shortly after it was published in 1992. in other instances, a request for a presentation prompted me to think in the direction specified by the institution requesting the lecture, or in accordance with some particular conference theme; an invitation from the Schomburg Library to participate in its conference on James Baldwin in 1989, for example, led me to focus on Giovanni’s Room (1953) because I suspected that it would be one of the less-covered works at the conference. in still other cases, as with Randall Kenan, an author or work nagged at me for months or years until I finally developed the critical commentary specifically for this volume. After allowing many of the essays to languish for years, as with “Humor in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple “and “New Invisible Man,” I revised them as appropriate and decided to bring them together with the newly written ones to shape this collection.

As I contemplate the essays presented here, I am ever aware of my position as a southern African American scholar of African American literature. Therefore, though the essays were not written originally with any deliberate thematic continuity in mind, they do have several points of connection among them; these include focus on the South and southern African American folk and cultural traditions . . .

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