Race and the Literary Encounter: Black Literature from James Weldon Johnson to Percival Everett

By Lesley Larkin | Go to book overview

FOUR
Erasing Precious

Sapphire and Percival Everett

ALICE WALKER’S 1982 NOVEL THE COLOR PURPLE WAS A CRITICAL and popular success. Walker won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983 and became the face of a new ascendancy of African American women writers that also included Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, Toni Morrison, and Ntozake Shange. The reception of Walker’s novel, however, was not universally positive. Some critics and writers attacked Walker for stereotyping black men as violent, black women as weak, and both as sexually perverse. In a 1984 interview with Reginald Martin, for example, poet and novelist Ishmael Reed described “black feminists, people like Alice Walker” as “‘neoconfederate’ novelists” and compared them to Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman (the 1905 novel upon which D. W. Griffith based his 1915 film The Birth of a Nation). And literary scholar Trudier Harris praised Walker’s deft handling of vernacular speech in The Color Purple but rejected her central character as an unrealistic – even infuriating – representation of Southern black women: “I couldn’t imagine a Celie living in any black community I knew or any that I could conceive of. What sane black woman, I asked, would sit around and take that crock of shit from all those folks? … But the woman just sat there, like a bale of cotton with a vagina … waiting for someone to come along and rescue her” (“On The Color Purple” 155).

Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation continued and complicated the controversy. Echoing Reed’s comparison of Walker’s novel to The Clansman, film critic Tony Brown called Spielberg’s adaptation “the most anti-Black family film of the modern film era” (qtd. in Bobo, “Black

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Race and the Literary Encounter: Black Literature from James Weldon Johnson to Percival Everett
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Blacks in the Diaspora ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Scenes of Reading, Scenes of Racialization- Modern and Contemporary Black Literature 3
  • One - Unbinding the Double Audience 33
  • Two - Speakerly Reading 65
  • Three - Close Reading "You" 93
  • Four - Erasing Precious 125
  • Five - Reading and Being Read 165
  • Epilogue - Toward a Theory and Pedagogy of Responsible Reading 191
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 245
  • Index 261
  • Blacks in the Diaspora 279
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