Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban

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With The Tempest's Caliban, Shakespeare created an archetype in the modern era depicting black men as slaves and savages who threaten civilization. As contemporary black male fiction writers have tried to free their subjects and themselves from this legacy to tell a story of liberation, they often unconsciously retell the story, making their heroes into modern-day Calibans.

Coleman analyzes the modern and postmodern novels of John Edgar Wideman, Clarence Major, Charles Johnson, William Melvin Kelley, Trey Ellis, David Bradley, and Wesley Brown. He traces the Caliban legacy to early literary influences, primarily Ralph Ellison, and then deftly demonstrates its contemporary manifestations. This engaging study challenges those who argue for the liberating possibilities of the postmodern narrative, as Coleman reveals the pervasiveness and influence of Calibanic discourse.

At the heart of James Coleman's study is the perceived history of the black male in Western culture and the traditional racist stereotypes indigenous to the language. Calibanic discourse, Coleman argues, so deeply and subconsciously influences the texts of black male writers that they are unable to cast off the oppression inherent in this discourse. Coleman wants to change the perception of black male writers' struggle with oppression by showing that it is their special struggle with language. Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban is the first book to analyze a substantial body of black male fiction from a central perspective.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Few can come away from their reading of Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban unchanged. Some will come unhinged. Coleman's work is a challenge to what we think we know of postmodernity, of African American writing, or male texts." — Aldon Lynn Nielsen

"One of the few studies devoted to contemporary black male fiction." — Choice

"One of the first books devoted to the contemporary fiction of African American men and seeks to broaden and complicate our understanding of black masculinity." — South Atlantic Review

"Coleman offers compelling, original analyses of a body of frequently overlooked and critically neglected works. That many of the works are by some of the best known black male writers of our time simply underscores the timeliness of Coleman's study." — Southern Literary Journal

"The quality of this book far exceeds the platitudes that we normally reserve for the very best work in the field: Phenomenal? Yes. Engaging? Quite. Seminal? For certain. Distinguished? Very possibly the most distinguished work on this subject to have come forth this century." — Warren Carson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813122045
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

James W. Coleman, professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Blackness and Modernism: The Literary Career of John Edgar Wideman.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Defining Calibanic Discourse in the Black Male Novel and Black Male Culture 1
1 The Conscious and Unconscious Dimensions of Calibanic Discourse Thematized in Philadelphia Fire 18
2 The Thematized Black Voice in John Edgar Wideman's The Cattle Killing and Reuben 37
3 Clarence Major's Quest to Define and Liberate the Self and the Black Male Writer 59
4 Charles Johnson's Response to "Caliban's Dilemma" 81
5 Calibanic Discourse in Postmodern and Non-Postmodern Black Male Texts 100
6 Ralph Ellison and the Literary Background of Contemporary Black Male Postmodern Writers 129
Conclusion: The "Special Edge" Tension Between the Conscious and Unconscious in the Contemporary Black Male Postmodern Novel 148
Notes 156
Works Cited 180
Index 184
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