Academic journal article American Studies

The Cambridge History of African American Literature

Academic journal article American Studies

The Cambridge History of African American Literature

Article excerpt

THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE. Edited by Maryemma Graham and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2011.

"New Frontiers: Cross-Currents, and Convergences: Emerging Paradigms," the title of Madhu Dubey's and Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg's chapter in the newly published Cambridge History of African American Literature (CHAAL) (2011) could well serve as the subtitle for the entire edition. For it communicates the terrains, scope, methods, applications, and ultimately the contributions this innovative and original work makes to the study of African American literature. Comprised of newly published essays by leading and emerging scholars in African American literature, CHAAL chronicles four hundred years of black writing and cultural production across multiple genres of writing (e.g., fiction, drama, and poetry) as well as across multiple physical, social, and ideological terrains. Since constructing a literary history is at the center of this project, editors Maryemma Graham and Jerry Ward, Jr. carefully articulate the basis upon which this text articulates such a history. Given the enormity of this task, Graham and Ward importantly acknowledge the challenge and inherent limitations of constructing a comprehensive study.

As they challenge readers to consider the dynamic interactions from the social, political, and economic factors that shape the creation, production, distribution, and reception of black writing, they also remind us that the very task they have set forth-to construct a literary history-is as Mario J. Valdés and Linda Hutcheon posit "unavoidably interpreted in the light of the present and that literary historians create meaning by ordering and shaping stories about texts and contexts" (1). Texts and contexts as well as dynamism and recovery emerge as prominent paradigms upon which CHAAL orders and shapes a narrative of black writing; unravels the evolving nature of literary traditions and ultimately literary history; and maps "the story of the existence and complex structure of African American literary acts and artifacts" (4). CHAAL creates a complicated and by no means unified portrait of African American literature that "comprises orature (oral literature) and printed texts simultaneously," advocates movement across disciplinary boundaries, illuminates the dynamism of interactions that shape black writing and its meaning, and underscores African and African American agency and authority (1, 3).

CHAAL is divided into three distinct parts. The first two parts, which represent the majority of the text, progress chronologically. Chapters focusing on the sonoric African origins of black orality, the development of early black print literature, and the diversity of antebellum and postbellum black writing comprise part 1. One of the many strengths of CHAAL emerges in the ways its chapters clearly reflect the vision, framework, and concerns articulated by its editors. Exploring the evolution of early black writing, Philip Gould cautions against the indiscriminate categorization of early black print in order to forcefully create a tradition of continuities. Detailing historical and ideological frameworks, he foregrounds the impact of natural rights philosophy and sentimentalism on early black discourse. Vincent Carretta marks the emergence of a canon. Like Gould, Carretta explains that early black writing is not easily categorizable, noting that these works were often multi-generic and their authors also assumed a range of "available identities" (54).

Joycelyn Moody demonstrates CHAAL's emphasis on African and African American authority and agency as well as the importance of orature and literature as simultaneous sites of analysis. She draws upon black feminist scholarship to articulate "black resistant orality" as a framework for understanding "blacks' subver162 sive testimony dictated to print literature interlocutors." Black resistant orality, she posits, expressed by Sojourner Truth and others emerge from an "African American expressive tradition that asserts the black self verbally or otherwise-performatively (136,137). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.