Academic journal article African American Review

African American Review at 40: A Retrospective

Academic journal article African American Review

African American Review at 40: A Retrospective

Article excerpt

The recollections below were first presented as part of the Division on Black American Literature and Culture panel of the same title at the 2006 convention of the Modern Language Association. Each author has served on the AAR Advisory Board since the 1970s; the first, Joe Weixlmann, served as Editor from 1976 to 2004.

Joe Weixlmann

Provost and Professor of English

Saint Louis University

The beginnings of African American Review were humble. In the fall of 1967, Negro American Literature Forum, a new publication "for School and University Teachers," appeared in what we would think of today as newsletter format (see Fig. 1). Edited by Indiana State University English professor John Bayliss, but published under the imprint of the University's School of Education, the journal was intended to provide useful information to the rela tively few K-16 faculty members determined to teach African American texts. But the fledgling journal's modest beginnings should not obscure the fact that, from the outset, it was attracting contributions from some of the field's giants. Richard Barksdale, Arthenia Bates Millican, Arna Bontemps, Thomas Cripps, Arthur P. Davis, Michel Fabre, Nick Aaron Ford, Gladys Marie Fry, Blyden Jackson, Keneth Kinnamon, and Darwin Turner were among the luminaries whose work appeared in early issues of NALF.


Bayliss's successor, Hannah Hedrick, lengthened the journal's academic trajectory. Assuming the editorship of NALF in its seventh year of publication, Hedrick developed connections with leading publishers of African American literature, including Dudley Randall and his Broadside Press, and she started the journal on its way to becoming more scholarly by printing longer, more developed literary analyses than the ones that tended to appear under Bayliss's editorship. She also assembled the first of many issues devoted to writing by black women--a bold editorial statement in 1975. (1)

The journal's second phase began with the Winter 1976 number, the first issue of Black American Literature Forum. The name change reflected not only a change of editors--I had assumed the helm in September of that year--but also evidenced a commitment to make the journal an essential part of the larger scholarly community. Midway into the journal's second year of publication, John Bayliss had appointed a four-person advisory board--Charlotte K. Brooks, Virginia M. Burke, George Kent, and Charles Nilon--but neither he nor Hedrick asked that group to assess submissions. By contrast, 14 scholars, including Brooks, Burke, and Nilon, committed in the fall of 1976 both to serving as readers of submitted manuscripts and to offering advice about the journal's content and image on a regular basis. (2) And so, with the advent of a new editor, a new name, and a communal commitment, a small publication with a circulation of about 625 institutional and individual subscribers, having shed its anachronistic name and abandoned its in-house decision-making process for the acceptance or rejection of manuscripts, was poised to evolve into a journal of note.

A key marker of that evolution was the decision of the newly constituted MLA Division on Black American Literature and Culture, in 1983, to denominate BALF as the Division's official publication, a distinction that it has held for nearly a quarter-century. (3) Another indicator of success was the journal's circulation growth; in the five-year period between 1976 and 1981, circulation doubled. Grant support followed, including seven grants from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines between 1977 and 1986, and a Kennedy Center grant in 1983. But the most important marker of the journal's having made a difference in the scholarly community were the theory-based issue (14.1) edited by Houston A. Baker in 1980 and the double-issue devoted to critical theory in 1981-82 (15.4-16.1), edited by Skip Gates. …

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