Warren argues, quite bluntly, that “African American literature” has outlived its relevance as the dominant category for poetry, fiction, and plays written by African Americans. Contradicting an influential portion of the field, which regards this literature as an emanation of vernacular expression going back to slavery, and even to Africa, Warren asserts that African American literature was the body of literature and criticism written by black Americans within and against the strictures of Jim Crow America. In arguing against the continued relevance of the category of African American literature, Warren is certainly not claiming that racism has ceased to exist. Rather, he says that while it continues to make a great difference in African American life, other social and political factors weigh heavily also - so much so that categories which take race as the fundamental unifying category of black expression no longer serve well in meeting the challenges of the moment. In this respect, Warren shows that “African American literature” is a category that has not sufficiently adjusted with our current material and ideological circumstances to warrant claims to a changing present or a provisional futurity. Warren argues that the presumptions and protocols of the category remain ossified within the past, within a definition that only shows how its primary arbiters and practitioners were themselves ossified as contradictory or compromised men of their time.
What's Nature Worth
Terre Satterfield University of Utah Press, 2004 Library of Congress PS163.W46 2004 | Dewey Decimal 810.936
Based on either written or oral interviews with a dozen prominent environmental writers, What’s Nature Worth? explores how the art of storytelling might bring new perspectives and insights to economic and policy discussions regarding the "value" of nature and the environment. The diverse points of view explored, and the writers’ insistence on careful interpretation, demonstrate that environmental values are complex, rich, and deeply felt—far more so than mainstream economic methodology would have us believe. There is general consensus among the contributors that the narrative form allows for an exploration of the richness of what it means to "value" nature without being preachy or didactic. Following interviews with the twelve authors, examples of their work demonstrate how indirect expressions of value, in the words of Allison Hawthorne Deming, have an "emotional hue" that can replenish the energy depleted by the coldness of cost-benefit arguments.
This provocative collection of essays reveals the passionate voice of a Native American feminist intellectual. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a poet and literary scholar, grapples with issues she encountered as a Native American in academia. She asks questions of critical importance to tribal people: who is telling their stories, where does cultural authority lie, and most important, how is it possible to develop an authentic tribal literary voice within the academic community?
In the title essay, “Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner,” Cook-Lynn objects to Stegner’s portrayal of the American West in his fiction, contending that no other author has been more successful in serving the interests of the nation’s fantasy about itself. When Stegner writes that “Western history sort of stopped at 1890,” and when he claims the American West as his native land, Cook-Lynn argues, he negates the whole past, present, and future of the native peoples of the continent. Her other essays include discussion of such Native American writers as Michael Dorris, Ray Young Bear, and N. Scott Momaday; the importance of a tribal voice in academia, the risks to American Indian women in current law practices, the future of Indian Nationalism, and the defense of the land.
Cook-Lynn emphasizes that her essays move beyond the narrowly autobiographical, not just about gender and power, not just focused on multiculturalism and diversity, but are about intellectual and political issues that engage readers and writers in Native American studies. Studying the “Indian,” Cook-Lynn reminds us, is not just an academic exercise but a matter of survival for the lifeways of tribal peoples. Her goal in these essays is to open conversations that can make tribal life and academic life more responsive to one another.
Within the Circle is the first anthology to present the entire spectrum of twentieth-century African American literary and cultural criticism. It begins with the Harlem Renaissance, continues through civil rights, the Black Arts Movement, and on into contemporary debates of poststructuralist and black feminist theory. Drawing on a quote from Frederick Douglass for the title of this book, Angelyn Mitchell explains in her introduction the importance for those "within the circle" of African American literature to examine their own works and to engage this critical canon. The essays in this collection—many of which are not widely available today—either initiated or gave critical definition to specific periods or movements of African American literature. They address issues such as integration, separatism, political action, black nationalism, Afrocentricity, black feminism, as well as the role of art, the artist, the critic, and the audience. With selections from Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Barbara Smith, Alice Walker, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and many others, this definitive collection provides a dynamic model of the cultural, ideological, historical, and aesthetic considerations in African American literature and literary criticism. A major contribution to the study of African American literature, this volume will serve as a foundation for future work by students and scholars. Its importance will be recognized by all those interested in modern literary theory as well as general readers concerned with the African American experience.
Selections by (partial list): Houston A. Baker, Jr., James Baldwin, Sterling Brown, Barbara Christian, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, LeRoi Jones, Sarah Webster Fabio, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W. Lawrence Hogue, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Deborah E. McDowell, Toni Morrison, J. Saunders Redding, George Schuyler, Barbara Smith, Valerie Smith, Hortense J. Spillers, Robert B. Stepto, Alice Walker, Margaret Walker, Mary Helen Washington, Richard Wright
Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader
Edited by Sidonie A. Smith and Julia Watson University of Wisconsin Press, 1998 Library of Congress PS366.A88W636 1998 | Dewey Decimal 818.540809492072
Women, Autobiography, Theory is the first comprehensive guide to the burgeoning field of women’s autobiography, drawing into one volume the most significant theoretical discussions on women’s life writing of the last two decades.
The authoritative introduction by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson surveys writing about women’s lives from the women’s movement of the late 1960s to the present. It also relates theoretical positions in women’s autobiography studies to postmodern, poststructuralist, postcolonial, and feminist analyses.
The essays from thirty-nine prominent critics and writers include many considered classics in this field. They explore narratives across the centuries and from around the globe, including testimonios, diaries, memoirs, letters, trauma accounts, prison narratives, coming-out stories, coming-of-age stories, and spiritual autobiographies. A list of more than two hundred women’s autobiographies and a comprehensive bibliography of critical scholarship in women’s autobiography provide invaluable information for scholars, teachers, and readers.
"The Word On the Street invites humanities scholars to move beyond the classroom and the monograph to share the pleasures of art in ways that engage the intelligence of the common reader, cultivating the critical imagination so vital to American cultural democracy. Lively and thought-provoking, Teres lays out contemporary debates and wades into them with gusto."
---Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University
"At a moment when questions about the literary, 'bookishness,' and the future of print are being urgently raised, with incessant national attention to the perceived crises of literacy and reading, Teres' thoughtful, broadly democratic, but also tough-minded examination of both 'common readers' and academic readers makes a real contribution to the debate."
---Julie Ellison, University of Michigan
Despite significant changes since the mid-twentieth century in American critical culture---the culture emanating from the serious review of books, ideas, and the arts---it attracts only a small and declining minority of Americans. However productive this culture has been, American society has not approached the realization of Emerson's or Dewey's vision of a highly participatory American cultural democracy. Such a culture requires critics who are read by the average citizen, but the migration of critics and intellectuals from the public to the academy has resulted in fewer efforts to engage with ordinary citizens. The Word on the Street investigates this disjunction between the study of literature in the academy and the interests of the common reader and society at large, arguing the vital importance of publicly engaged scholarship in the humanities. Teres chronicles how the once central function of the humanities professorate---to teach students to appreciate and be inspired by literature---has increasingly been lost to literary and cultural studies in the last thirty years.
The Word on the Street argues for a return to an earlier model of the public intellectual and a literary and cultural criticism that is accessible to ordinary citizens. Along the way, Teres offers an illuminating account of the current problem and potential solutions, with the goal of prompting a future vision of publicly engaged scholarship that resonates with the common reader and promotes an informed citizenry.
Harvey Teres is Associate Professor of English at Syracuse University.
Cover image: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times/Redux
The Writer as Migrant
Ha Jin University of Chicago Press, 2008 Library of Congress PS3560.I6Z46 2008 | Dewey Decimal 818.54
As a teenager during China’s Cultural Revolution, Ha Jin served as an uneducated soldier in the People’s Liberation Army. Thirty years later, a resident of the United States, he won the National Book Award for his novel Waiting, completing a trajectory that has established him as one of the most admired exemplars of world literature.
Ha Jin’s journey raises rich and fascinating questions about language, migration, and the place of literature in a rapidly globalizing world—questions that take center stage in The Writer as Migrant, his first work of nonfiction. Consisting of three interconnected essays, this book sets Ha Jin’s own work and life alongside those of other literary exiles, creating a conversation across cultures and between eras. He employs the cases of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Chinese novelist Lin Yutang to illustrate the obligation a writer feels to the land of his birth, while Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov—who, like Ha Jin, adopted English for their writing—are enlisted to explore a migrant author’s conscious choice of a literary language. A final essay draws on V. S. Naipaul and Milan Kundera to consider the ways in which our era of perpetual change forces a migrant writer to reconceptualize the very idea of home. Throughout, Jin brings other celebrated writers into the conversation as well, including W. G. Sebald, C. P. Cavafy, and Salman Rushdie—refracting and refining the very idea of a literature of migration.
Simultaneously a reflection on a crucial theme and a fascinating glimpse at the writers who compose Ha Jin’s mental library, The Writer as Migrant is a work of passionately engaged criticism, one rooted in departures but feeling like a new arrival.
In The Writer in the Well: On Misreading and Rewriting Literature, Gary Weissman takes readers inside Ira Sher’s short story “The Man in the Well,” about a group of children who discover a man trapped in an old well and decide not to help him. While absorbing readers in the pleasurable activity of interpreting this haunting tale, Weissman draws on dozens of his students’ responses to the short story, as well as his dialogue with its author, to show that the deepest engagement with literature occurs when we approach literary analysis as a collaborative enterprise conducted largely through writing.
Rethinking the methods and goals of literary analysis, Weissman’s study redefines the nature of authorial intention and reconceives literary interpretation as a writing-based practice. By integrating writing pedagogy with older and newer schools of thought—from psychoanalytic, reader-response, and poststructuralist theories to rhetorical narrative theory and cognitive literary studies—and bridging the fields of literary studies, composition and rhetoric, and creative writing, The Writer in the Well argues that the richest understanding of a literary work lies in probing how it has been misinterpreted and reconceived and offers a new “writer-response theory.”
This highly accessible and thought-provoking book, which includes the full text of Sher’s “The Man in the Well,” is designed to engage scholars, teachers, students, and avid readers of literature.
Beginning in the 1980s, a number of popular and influential anthologies organized around themes of shared identity—Nice Jewish Girls, This Bridge Called My Back, Home Girls, and others—have brought together women’s fiction and poetry with journal entries, personal narratives, and transcribed conversations. These groundbreaking multi-genre anthologies, Cynthia G. Franklin demonstrates, have played a crucial role in shaping current literary studies, in defining cultural and political movements, and in building connections between academic and other communities.
Exploring intersections and alliances across the often competing categories of race, class, gender, and sexuality, Writing Women’s Communities contributes to current public debates about multiculturalism, feminism, identity politics, the academy as a site of political activism, and the relationship between literature and politics.
For twenty years, the Poets on Poetry series, under the editorship of Donald Hall, has provided readers with a variety of prose reflections, interviews, essays, and other works by America's leading contemporary poets. With Written in Water, Written in Stone, Martin Lammon celebrates the longevity and literary success of the series by gathering together exemplary selections from many of its volumes. Organized by theme ranging from language and form, politics and poetry, to the literary industry, Written in Water, Written in Stone offers a remarkable survey of the salient issues that concern contemporary poets and their readers.
Included are selections from, among others, Robert Bly, Hayden Carruth, Amy Clampitt, Robert Creeley, Tess Gallagher, Donald Hall, Robert Hayden, Galway Kinnell, Richard Kostelanetz, Maxine Kumin, Philip Levine, Marge Piercy, Anne Sexton, Charles Simic, Louis Simpson, William Stafford, Diane Wakoski, Charles Wright, and James Wright. This diverse collection of popular contemporary poets is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers.
Martin Lammon teaches creative writing at Fairmont State College. He is a poet and editor of the literary magazine Kestrel.
Written Voices, Spoken Signs is a stimulating introduction to new perspectives on Homer and other traditional epics. Taking advantage of recent research on language and social exchange, the nine essays in this volume focus on performance and audience reception of oral poetry.
These innovative essays by leading scholars of Homer, oral poetics, and epic invite us to rethink some key concepts for an understanding of traditional epic poetry. Egbert Bakker examines the epic performer's use of time and tense in recounting a past that is alive. Tackling the question of full-length performance of the monumental Iliad, Andrew Ford considers the extent to which the work was perceived as a coherent whole in the archaic age. John Miles Foley addresses questions about spoken signs and the process of reference in epic discourse, and Ahuvia Kahane studies rhythm as a semantic factor in the Homeric performance. Richard Martin suggests a new range of performance functions for the Homeric simile. And Gregory Nagy establishes the importance of one feature of epic language, the ellipsis. These six essays centered on Homer engage with fundamental issues that are addressed by three essays primarily concerned with medieval epic: those by Franz BÃƒÂ¤uml on the concept of fact; by Wulf Oesterreicher on types of orality; and by Ursula Schaefer on written and spoken media. In their Introduction the editors highlight the underlying approach and viewpoints of this collaborative volume.
Reviews of this book: "Despite its wide range of topics and approaches, the volume has a clear thematic focus. All contributors seek to leave behind the more formal concerns of past generations of scholars and aim instead at an understanding of orality as that which is (conceptually or actually) close, immediate, or performed. In their joint search for the new picture, classicists, linguists, and medievalists discover a range of different 'oralities'."