Black on Black: Twentieth-Century African American Writing about Africa

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Black on Black provides the first comprehensive analysis of the modern African American literary response to Africa, from W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk to Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Combining cutting-edge theory, extensive historical and archival research, and close readings of individual texts, Gruesser reveals the diversity of the African American response to Countee Cullen's question, "What is Africa to Me?"

John Gruesser uses the concept of Ethiopianism--the biblically inspired belief that black Americans would someday lead Africans and people of the diaspora to a bright future--to provide a framework for his study. Originating in the eighteenth century and inspiring religious and political movements throughout the 1800s, Ethiopianism dominated African American depictions of Africa in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in the writings of Du Bois, Sutton Griggs, and Pauline Hopkins. Beginning with the Harlem Renaissance and continuing through the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, however, its influence on the portrayal of the continent slowly diminished.

Ethiopianism's decline can first be seen in the work of writers closely associated with the New Negro Movement, including Alain Locke and Langston Hughes, and continued in the dramatic work of Shirley Graham, the novels of George Schuyler, and the poetry and prose of Melvin Tolson. The final rejection of Ethiopianism came after the dawning of the Cold War and roughly coincided with the advent of postcolonial Africa in works by authors such as Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, and Alice Walker.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This work charts well the African American literary response to Africa over time." -- Booklist

"The view that black Americans will deliver a bright future to Africa is refuted in this survey of 20th century Afro-American writings about Africa." -- Bookwatch

"Engaging and offers insight into the evolution of African-American thought and writing." -- Charleston Post & Courier

"Draws important conclusions and offers a perceptive treatment." -- Choice

"Will play an important role in discussions of the literature of the African diaspora for years to come. Original and intriguing." -- Craig H. Werner

"Chronicles, in a detailed and convincing manner, the evolution of black America literary responses to the consequences of the African Diaspora." -- Modern Fiction Studies

"Thoroughly and thoughtfully written.... Seeks to address the basic tenants of Ethiopianism and how Black Americans across centuries have chosen to write Africa." -- Politics and Culture

"Well-written, meticulously researched (containing a wealth of fascinating historical material), and powerfully argued." -- South Atlantic Review

Gruesser (English, Kean University) examines African American literature in the context of Ethiopianism, asserting that there is no other way to fully understand black literary depictions of Africa. Using the works of W.E.B. DuBois and Alice Walker as a framework, Gruesser tracks the authors' growing rejection of Ethiopianism and the notion of a Christian deliverance for Africa. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From The Critics
Black On Black uses the works of Du Bois and Alice Walker as a framework for tracking the authors' rejection of Ethiopianism in literature. In the 1920s some blacks began questioning the popular foundations of Ethiopianism: by the 1950s and 60s, rejection was in full swing. Black On Black examines the foundations and history of 20th century Afro-American literature about Africa and provides some important perspectives.
Internet Bookwatch
In Black on Black, John Gruesser begins with Du Bois and Alice Walker's writings and tracks the growing rejection of the Ethiopianist stand in literature, from the 1920s when black writers began questioning its tenants to its final rejection in the 1950s. The view that black Americans will deliver a bright future to Africa is refuted in this survey of 20th century Afro-American writings about Africa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813121635
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 6/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

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