Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon

Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon

Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon

Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon

Synopsis

In this volume, Lovalerie King and Shirley Moody-Turner have compiled a collection of essays that offer access to some of the most innovative contemporary black fiction while addressing important issues in current African American literary studies. Distinguished scholars Houston Baker, Trudier Harris, Darryl Dickson-Carr, and Maryemma Graham join writers and younger scholars to explore the work of Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, Trey Ellis, Paul Beatty, Mat Johnson, Kyle Baker, Danzy Senna, Nikki Turner, and many others. The collection is bracketed by a foreword by novelist and graphic artist Mat Johnson, one of the most exciting and innovative contemporary African American writers, and an afterword by Alice Randall, author of the controversial parody The Wind Done Gone. Together, King and Moody-Turner make the case that diversity, innovation, and canon expansion are essential to maintaining the vitality of African American literary studies.

Excerpt

There is a fanpage on the popular networking site Facebook entitled “I Hate Reading.” It’s a very succinct title, and there’s not much else to the page. If you hate reading, you simply click the button that says “Like,” and you can become a “Fan” and proudly show your unabashed support for illiteracy. As of this writing, the site has over 450,000 members, all of whom presumably overcame the irony of having to read the page in the first place.

As a writer, I am of course disheartened by this lambasting of the written word. But as a human, I understand. Books are hard. My own art, the novel, is among the hardest. Novels are incomplete in their process, forcing the reader to use her or his imagination to bring the text to life. TV shows don’t demand that; they do the work for you. Films as well, with millions of dollars spent to bring the creativity to life. People work hard, come home exhausted, they want the release, they want escape, they want someone else to carry the load. It’s no wonder every time I write a book someone says to me, “Maybe they’ll turn it into a movie.” That knowledge keeps me from attacking them.

So why do novels matter? In this era of visual media, when one film’s advertising budget alone can dwarf the incomes of entire publishing houses, what does the novel hope to offer? I ask myself this quite often. I ask it every time I happen upon a beautiful book that’s been ignored, or as I struggle myself with the realities of trying to maintain my life as a writer. I’m asked this too, by writing students struggling to understand if the art they’re dedicating their lives to still has a place in the world. And I usually answer them with one word. Lolita.

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