African American Literary Theory: A Reader

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African American Literary Theory: A Reader is the first volume to document the central texts and arguments in African American literary theory from the 1920s through the present. As the volume progresses chronologically from the rise of a black aesthetic criticism, through the Blacks Arts Movement, feminism, structuralism and poststructuralism, and the rise of queer theory, it focuses on the key arguments, themes, and debates in each period.

By constantly bringing attention to the larger political and cultural issues at stake in the interpretation of literary texts, the critics gathered here have contributed mightily to the prominence and popularity of African American literature in this country and abroad. African American Literary Theory provides a unique historical analysis of how these thinkers have shaped literary theory, and literature at large, and will be a indispensable text for the study of African American intellectual culture.

Contributors include Sandra Adell, Michael Awkward, Houston A. Baker, Jr., Hazel V. Carby, Barbara Christian, W.E.B. DuBois, Ann duCille, Ralph Ellison, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Addison Gayle Jr., Carolyn F. Gerald, Evelynn Hammonds, Phillip Brian Harper, Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, Stephen E. Henderson, Karla F.C. Holloway, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, LeRoi Jones Amiri Baraka, Joyce A. Joyce, Alain Locke, Wahneema Lubiano, Deborah E. McDowell, Harryette Mullen, Larry Neal, Charles I. Nero, Robert F. Reid-Pharr, Marlon B. Ross, George S. Schuyler, Barbara Smith, Valerie Smith, Hortense J. Spillers, Sherley Anne Williams, and Richard Wright.

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Editorial Reviews

Black Issues Book Review
Even for the enthusiastic reader, literary theory may represent a vacuum of over-intellectualism that promises to suck all the enjoyment out of curling up with a good book. Though it can sometimes be hard to understand for its abundance of fifty-cent words, worthwhile literary criticism really just boils down to asking tough questions about literature. With that as a base, Napier offers a collection of some of the most significant and interesting ideas written about African American letters.
Fifty-one essays by writers such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as critics and academics such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examine the central texts and arguments in African American literary theory from the 1920s through the present. Contributions are organized chronologically beginning with the rise of a black aesthetic criticism, through the Black Arts Movement, feminism, structuralism and poststructuralism, queer theory, and cultural studies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher
"A volume of great conceptual significance and originality in its focus on the development of African literary theory."-Farah Jasmine Griffin, University of Pennsylvania,

"The influence of African American literature can be attributed, in no small part, to the literary theorists gathered in this collection. This is a superb anthology that represents a diversity of voices and points of view, and a much needed historical retrospective of how African American literary theory has developed."-Marlo B. Ross, University of Michigan,

"African American Literary Theory is an extraordinary gift to literary studies. It is necessary, authoritative and thorough. The timing of this book is superb!"-Karla F. C. Holloway, Duke University,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814758090
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Series: Literary Theory
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Winston Napier is E. Franklin Frazier Assistant Professor of African American Literature and Critical Theory at Clark University in Worcester, MA.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. 1 The 1920s to the 1960s: Affirming a Black Aesthetic 15
1 Criteria of Negro Art 17
2 The Negro-Art Hokum 24
3 The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain 27
4 Characteristics of Negro Expression 31
5 Blueprint for Negro Writing 45
6 What White Publishers Won't Print 54
7 Self-Criticism: The Third Dimension in Culture 58
8 Expressive Language 62
9 Brave Words for a Startling Occasion 66
10 And Shine Swam On: An Afterword 69
11 The Black Writer and His Role 81
Pt. 2 The 1970s: The Onset of Theory and the Emergence of Black Feminist Critique 87
12 Some Reflections on the Black Aesthetic 89
13 Cultural Strangulation: Black Literature and the White Aesthetic 92
14 Inside the Funk Shop: A Word on Black Words 97
15 Saturation: Progress Report on a Theory of Black Poetry 102
16 On the Criticism of Black American Literature: One View of the Black Aesthetic 113
17 Toward a Black Feminist Criticism 132
18 Preface to Blackness: Text and Pretext 147
Pt. 3 The 1980s: Poststructuralism and the Growth of Feminist Theory 165
19 New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism 167
20 Generational Shifts and the Recent Criticism of Afro-American Literature 179
21 Some Implications of Womanist Theory 218
22 Belief, Theory, and Blues: Notes for a Post-Structuralist Criticism of Afro-American Literature 224
23 "Woman's Era": Rethinking Black Feminist Theory 242
24 Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book 257
25 The Race for Theory 280
26 The Black Canon: Reconstructing Black American Literary Criticism 290
27 "What's Love Got to Do with It?": Critical Theory, Integrity, and the Black Idiom 298
28 In Dubious Battle 313
29 "Who the Cap Fit": Unconsciousness and Unconscionableness in the Criticism of Houston A. Baker, Jr. and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 319
30 Appropriative Gestures: Theory and Afro-American Literary Criticism 331
31 Introduction to The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism 339
32 Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition 348
33 Black Feminist Theory and the Representation of the "Other" 369
Pt. 4 The 1990s: Feminist Expansions, Queer Theory, and the Turn to Cultural Studies 385
34 Revision and (Re)membrance: A Theory of Literary Structures in Literature by African-American Women Writers 387
35 Toward a Black Gay Aesthetic: Signifying in Contemporary Black Gay Literature 399
36 Theoretical Returns 421
37 Phallus(ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical "I" 443
38 Nationalism and Social Division in Black Arts Poetry of the 1960s 460
39 The Problems with Silence and Exclusiveness in the African American Literary Community 475
40 Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality 482
41 Some Glances at the Black Fag: Race, Same-Sex Desire, and Cultural Belonging 498
42 The Crisis in Black American Literary Criticism and the Postmodern Cures of Houston A. Backer, Jr., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 523
43 A Black Man's Place in Black Feminist Criticism 540
44 Black Feminist Thinking: The "Practice" of "Theory" 557
45 "All the Things You Could Be by Now, If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother": Psychoanalysis and Race 580
46 Tearing the Goat's Flesh: Homosexuality, Abjection, and the Production of a Late Twentieth-Century Black Masculinity 602
47 African Signs and Spirit Writing 623
48 Mapping the Interstices between Afro-American Cultural Discourse and Cultural Studies: A Prolegomenon 643
49 Cultural Narratives Passed On: African American Mourning Stories 653
50 Introduction to Race Men: The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures 660
51 Malcolm's Conk and Danto's Colors: or, Four Logical Petitions Concerning Race, Beauty, and Aesthetics 665
Suggested Readings since the 1970s for African American Literary/Cultural Theory: A Select Bibliography 673
Contributors 691
Permissions 697
Index 701
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