The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market

The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market

The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market

The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market

Synopsis

The Difficult Art of Giving rethinks standard economic histories of the literary marketplace. Traditionally, American literary histories maintain that the post-Civil War period marked the transition from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and an era of self-supporting professionalism. These histories assert that the market helped to democratize literary production and consumption, enabling writers to sustain themselves without the need for private sponsorship. By contrast, Francesca Sawaya demonstrates the continuing importance of patronage and the new significance of corporate-based philanthropy for cultural production in the United States in the postbellum and modern periods.

Focusing on Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, and Theodore Dreiser, Sawaya explores the notions of a free market in cultural goods and the autonomy of the author. Building on debates in the history of the emotions, the history and sociology of philanthropy, feminist theory, and the new economic criticism, Sawaya examines these major writers' careers as well as their rich and complex representations of the economic world. Their work, she argues, demonstrates that patronage and corporate-based philanthropy helped construct the putatively free market in literature. The book thereby highlights the social and economic interventions that shape markets, challenging old and contemporary forms of free market fundamentalism.

Excerpt

This book about canonical nineteenth-and early twentieth-century American literature emerged paradoxically out of a class I taught on the Harlem Renaissance. For any scholar interested in the economic history of modern American literature, the Harlem Renaissance seems anomalous. in standard accounts of literary history, scholars argue that the mode of production for literature switches unevenly in the post-Civil War period from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and self-supporting professionalism. the market, literary scholars say, helped democratize literary production and consumption, even as it enabled the creation of a new profession in which writers could sustain themselves without a need for patrons or sponsors. the Harlem Renaissance, however, seems to pose an exception to this economic narrative. Many Harlem Renaissance writers had patrons—black but also white (Alain Locke, James Weldon Johnson, A’leila Walker, W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as “Godmother” Charlotte Mason, Nancy Cunard, Carl Van Vechten). Even more strikingly, Harlem Renaissance writers’ work was sponsored or promoted by a number of philanthropic or philanthropically inclined organizations (Guggenheim, Rosenwald, the naacp, the Urban League). Individual patronage and institutional philanthropy— especially involving white elites—have therefore always been controversial features in debates about Harlem Renaissance artists, in a way that they have not been for white artists of the same period.

At one level, this controversy is not surprising, because if Harlem Renaissance writers themselves are any gauge, patronage and philanthropy were of deep interest to these writers in imagining the significance and critical potential of their work. Repeatedly in the Harlem Renaissance and . . .

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