A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture.
The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture--sexual difference--can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology--Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson--has measured African Americans' unsuitability for a liberal capitalist order in terms of their adherence to the norms of a heterosexual and patriarchal nuclear family model. In short, to the extent that African Americans' culture and behavior deviated from those norms, they would not achieve economic and racial equality.
Aberrations in Black tells the story of canonical sociology's regulation of sexual difference as part of its general regulation of African American culture. Ferguson places this story within other stories--the narrative of capital's emergence and development, the histories of Marxism and revolutionary nationalism, and the novels that depict the gendered and sexual idiosyncrasies of African American culture--works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. In turn, this book tries to present another story--one in which people who presumably manifest the dysfunctions of capitalism are reconsidered as indictments of the norms of state, capital, and social science. Ferguson includes the first-ever discussion of a new archival discovery--a never-published chapter of Invisible Man that deals with a gay character in a way that complicates and illuminates Ellison's project.
Unique in the way it situates critiques of race, gender, and sexuality within analyses of cultural, economic, and epistemological formations, Ferguson's work introduces a new mode of discourse--which Ferguson calls queer of color analysis--that helps to lay bare the mutual distortions of racial, economic, and sexual portrayals within sociology.
Roderick A. Ferguson is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota.
While John Winthrop might have famously uttered the phrase “city upon a hill” on the way to Massachusetts, the strands of millennialism and exceptionalism that remain so central to U.S. political discourse are now dominated by eschatological visions that have emerged from the particular historical experiences of the U.S. South. Despite the strategic exploitation of this reality by political communicators, scholars in the humanities have paid little attention to the eschatological visions offered by southern religious culture.
Fortunately, writers and artists have not ignored such matters; compared to their academic counterparts, southern novelists have been far better attuned to a southern apocalyptic imaginary—a field of reference, drawn from the cosmology of southern evangelical Protestantism, that maps the apocalyptic possibilities of cataclysm, judgment, deliverance, and even revolution onto the landscape of the region. Apocalypse South rectifies the omissions in existing scholarship by interrogating the role of apocalyptic discourse in selected works of fiction by four southern writers—William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Randall Kenan, and Dorothy Allison. In doing so, it reinvigorates discussions of religion in southern literary scholarship and introduces a new element in the ongoing investigation into how regional identities function in notions of national mission and American exceptionalism. Engaging concerns of religion, race, sexuality, and community in fiction from the 1930s to the present, Apocalypse South offers a new conceptual framework for considering what has long been considered “southern Gothic literature”—a framework less concerned with the conventions of a particular literary genre than with the ways in which literature exposes and even tries to make sense of the contradictions within cultures.
Although he never lived in Harlem, Chester Himes commented that he experienced “a sort of pure homesickness” while creating the Harlem-set detective novels from his self-imposed exile in Paris. Through writing, Himes constructed an imaginary home informed both by nostalgia for a community he never knew and a critique of the racism he left behind in the United States. Half a century later, Michelle Cliff wrote about her native Jamaica from the United States, articulating a positive Caribbean feminism that at the same time acknowledged Jamaica’s homophobia and color prejudice.
In At Home in Diaspora, Wendy Walters investigates the work of Himes, Cliff, and three other twentieth-century black international writers—Caryl Phillips, Simon Njami, and Richard Wright—who have lived in and written from countries they do not call home. Unlike other authors in exile, those of the African diaspora are doubly displaced, first by the discrimination they faced at home and again by their life abroad. Throughout, Walters suggests that in the absence of a recoverable land of origin, the idea of diaspora comes to represent a home that is not singular or exclusionary. In this way, writing in exile is much more than a literary performance; it is a profound political act.
Wendy W. Walters is assistant professor of literature at Emerson College.
A writer perhaps best known for the revolutionary works Black Boy and Native Son, Richard Wright also worked as a journalist during one of the most explosive periods of the 20th century. From 1937 to 1938, Wright turned out more than two hundred articles for the Daily Worker, the newspaper that served as the voice of the American Communist Party. Byline, Richard Wright assembles more than one hundred of those articles plus two of Wright’s essays from New Masses, revealing to readers the early work of an American icon.
As both reporter and Harlem bureau chief, Wright covered most of the major and minor events, personalities, and issues percolating through the local, national, and global scenes in the late 1930s. Because the Daily Worker wasn’t a mainstream paper, editors gave Wright free rein to cover the stories he wanted, and he tackled issues that no one else covered. Although his peers criticized his journalistic writing, these articles offer revealing portraits of Depression-era America rendered in solid, vivid prose.
Featuring Earle V. Bryant’s informative, detailed introduction and commentary contextualizing the compiled articles, Byline, Richard Wright provides insight into the man before he achieved fame as a novelist, short story writer, and internationally recognized voice of social protest. This collection opens new territory in Wright studies, and fans of Wright’s novels will delight in discovering the lost material of this literary great.
When we think about young people dealing drugs, we tend to picture it happening on urban streets, in disadvantaged, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But drugs are used everywhere—even in upscale suburbs and top-tier high schools—and teenage users in the suburbs tend to buy drugs from their peers, dealers who have their own culture and code, distinct from their urban counterparts.
In Code of the Suburb, Scott Jacques and Richard Wright offer a fascinating ethnography of the culture of suburban drug dealers. Drawing on fieldwork among teens in a wealthy suburb of Atlanta, they carefully parse the complicated code that governs relationships among buyers, sellers, police, and other suburbanites. That code differs from the one followed by urban drug dealers in one crucial respect: whereas urban drug dealers see violent vengeance as crucial to status and security, the opposite is true for their suburban counterparts. As Jacques and Wright show, suburban drug dealers accord status to deliberate avoidance of conflict, which helps keep their drug markets more peaceful—and, consequently, less likely to be noticed by law enforcement.
Offering new insight into both the little-studied area of suburban drug dealing, and, by extension, the more familiar urban variety, Code of the Suburb will be of interest to scholars and policy makers alike.
In Culture, Genre, and Literary Vocation, Michael Davitt Bell charts the important and often overlooked connection between literary culture and authors' careers. Bell's influential essays on nineteenth-century American writers—originally written for such landmark projects as The Columbia Literary History of the United States and The Cambridge History of American Literature—are gathered here with a major new essay on Richard Wright.
Throughout, Bell revisits issues of genre with an eye toward the unexpected details of authors' lives, and invites us to reconsider the hidden functions that terms such as "romanticism" and "realism" served for authors and their critics. Whether tracing the demands of the market or the expectations of readers, Bell examines the intimate relationship between literary production and culture; each essay closely links the milieu in which American writers worked with the trajectory of their storied careers.
During the 1940s, in response to the charge that his writing was filled with violence, Richard Wright replied that the manner came from the matter, that the “relationship of the American Negro to the American scene [was] essentially violent,” and that he could deny neither the violence he had witnessed nor his own existence as a product of racial violence. Abdul R. JanMohamed provides extraordinary insight into Wright’s position in this first study to explain the fundamental ideological and political functions of the threat of lynching in Wright’s work and thought. JanMohamed argues that Wright’s oeuvre is a systematic and thorough investigation of what he calls the death-bound-subject, the subject who is formed from infancy onward by the imminent threat of death. He shows that with each successive work, Wright delved further into the question of how living under a constant menace of physical violence affected his protagonists and how they might “free” themselves by overcoming their fear of death and redeploying death as the ground for their struggle.
Drawing on psychoanalytic, Marxist, and phenomenological analyses, and on Orlando Patterson’s notion of social death, JanMohamed develops comprehensive, insightful, and original close readings of Wright’s major publications: his short-story collection Uncle Tom’s Children; his novels Native Son, The Outsider, Savage Holiday, and The Long Dream; and his autobiography Black Boy/American Hunger. The Death-Bound-Subject is a stunning reevaluation of the work of a major twentieth-century American writer, but it is also much more. In demonstrating how deeply the threat of death is involved in the formation of black subjectivity, JanMohamed develops a methodology for understanding the presence of the death-bound-subject in African American literature and culture from the earliest slave narratives forward.
While Richard Wright's account of the 1955 Bandung Conference has been key to shaping Afro-Asian historical narratives, Indonesian accounts of Wright and his conference attendance have been largely overlooked. Indonesian Notebook contains myriad documents by Indonesian writers, intellectuals, and reporters, as well as a newly recovered lecture by Wright, previously published only in Indonesian. Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher introduce and contextualize these documents with extensive background information and analysis, showcasing the heterogeneity of postcolonial modernity and underscoring the need to consider non-English language perspectives in transnational cultural exchanges. This collection of primary sources and scholarly histories is a crucial companion volume to Wright'sThe Color Curtain.
In the late 1930s, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway wrote novels that won critical acclaim and popular success: The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. All three writers were involved with the Left at the time, and that commitment informed their fiction. Milton Cohen examines their motives for involvement with the Left; their novels’ political themes; and why they separated from the Left after the novels were published. These writers were deeply conflicted about their political commitments, and Cohen explores the tensions that arose between politics and art, resulting in the abandonment of a political attachment.
The first book-length study of Richard Wright (1908–1960) gives a critical, historical, and biographical perspective on the gifted African American writer. It presents Wright not only as an artist whose subjects and themes were affected by his race, but also as a sensitive and talented man who was deeply immersed in the major social and intellectual movements of his day.
Brigano discusses Wright’s artistry and his major public concerns as revealed in his novels, short stories, essays, and poetry: race relations in the United States, the role of Marxism in recent history and the future, the direction of international affairs, and the modes of modern personal and social philosophies.
Taking up where he left off with Kinds of Blue (The Ohio State University Press, 2004), Jürgen E. Grandt seeks to explore in depth some of the implications of the modernist jazz aesthetic resonating in the African American literary tradition. Grandt’s new book, Shaping Words to Fit the Soul:The Southern Ritual Grounds of Afro-Modernism, probes the ways in which modernism’s key themes of fragmentation, alienation, and epistemology complicate the mapping of the American South as an “authenticating” locus of African American narrative. Rather than being a site of authentication, the South constitutes a symbolic territory that actually resists the very narrative strategies deployed to capture it.
The figurative ritual grounds traversed in texts by Frederick Douglass, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, and Tayari Jones reveal Afro-modernism as modernism with a historical conscience. Since literary Afro-modernism recurrently points to music as a symbolic territory of liberatory potential, this study also visits a variety of soundscapes, from the sorrow songs of the slaves to the hip-hop of the Dirty South, and from the blues of W. C. Handy to the southern rock of the Allman Brothers Band.
Afro-modernism as modernism with a historical conscience thus suggests a reconfiguration of southern ritual grounds as situated in time and mind rather than time and place, and the ramifications of this process extend far above and beyond the Mason-Dixon Line.
Widely acclaimed for its comprehensive and sensitive picture of one of America's most renowned writers, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright received the Anisfield-Wolf Award on Race Relations when it was first published. This first paperback edition contains a new preface and bibliographic essay, updating changes in the author's approach to his subject and discussing works published on Wright since 1973.