My father, William J. Maxwell, Sr., the integrated schools of Jersey City and Teaneck, New Jersey, and two distinguished teachers—Amiri Baraka and J. Lee Greene—are responsible for my scholarly interest in African-American culture. To them I owe a deep thanks rivaled only by my gratefulness to those historians of American literary radicalism who embraced my work when it was even more obscure. Barbara Foley, Cary Nelson, and Alan Wald saw the wheat in the chaff and showed that the idea of a critical community was not oxymoronic. The generosity, intelligence, and commitment of all those above inform the good parts of what follows.
I have also had luck enough to live in three different academic settlements, located in two states and one canton, that forced me to think or sink. At Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, my dissertation committee was searching and encouraging. Tom Ferraro suggested something close to this book’s title; Karla F. C. Holloway inspired me by sharing my words with her father; Susan Willis demonstrated the arts of specifying and staying true; and Jane Tompkins and my formidable director, Frank Lentricchia, offered friendship and needed tips on how to write outside the persona of a nervous classicist. Rick Roderick and Jane ought to know how much I continue to draw on their contrary but equally emphatic pedagogies. My shadow committee, composed of some of the sharpest graduate students in Blue Devil history, was headed by Martine De Vos, Paul Gripp, Marty Hipsky, Angela Hubler, Caren Irr, Carolyn Lesjak, and Joe McGeary. Tim Dayton, Dana Phillips, and Terry Whalen often eclipsed our official instructors in critical theory.