The Possible in Things Unwritten: Kinship and Innovation in the Fictions of Ellison, Gaines, and McPherson
Our mode is our jam session of tradition,
past in this present moment
articulated, blown through with endurance...
-- Michael S. Harper, "Corrected Review"
In an interview with Marcia Gaudet and Carl Wooten, Ernest J. Gaines asserts with great finality, "No black writer had influence on me."1 Moreover, in his essay "On Becoming an American Writer," James Alan McPherson, while discussing his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, Elbow Room, notes that his first intention was to discover his identity as a writer, a project that forced him to "find a basis other than race" to synthesize his experiences as an American, to "make something whole out of a necessarily fragmented experience."2 Both writers disconnect their artistic projects from the enactment of African American identity. However, as Keith Byerman has pointed out, this seemingly abrupt act of distancing themselves from African American literary tradition is finally itself part of the tradition:
Each generation of African-American writers seems to need to create a space for itself by claiming kin to no black predecessor or by citing the influence of European and white American artists, such as Joyce, Hemingway, or Turgenev. By defining their background in such a way, Gaines and McPherson, as well as