Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930

Overview

Race, Work, and Desire analyzes literary representations of work relationships across the color-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Michele Birnbaum examines interracial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence by black and white authors and artists-including Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, W. D. Howells, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, Amy Spingarn and Carl Van Vechten-exploring the way servants and employers, doctors and patients, and patrons and artists ...

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Overview

Race, Work, and Desire analyzes literary representations of work relationships across the color-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Michele Birnbaum examines interracial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence by black and white authors and artists-including Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, W. D. Howells, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, Amy Spingarn and Carl Van Vechten-exploring the way servants and employers, doctors and patients, and patrons and artists negotiate their racial differences for artistic and political ends. Situating these relationships in literary and cultural context, Birnbaum argues that the literature reveals the complexity of crossracial relations in the workplace, which, although often represented as an oasis of racial harmony, is in fact the very site where race politics are most fiercely engaged. This study productively complicates debates about crossracial collaboration in American literary and race studies, and will be of interest to scholars in both literary and cultural studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 is a well-written, well-conceived analysis of texts and relationships that explore and critique the possibility of intimacy across the black-white color line. The intimacy that Birnbaum explores here, however, is not that, which occurs in the bedroom, except insofar as bedrooms are places of work for domestic servants. Rather Birnbaum is most interested in postbellum and early twentieth-century representations of intimacy that occur in the context of work or labor. Her goal here is to historicize interracial intimacy in order to reveal how even apparently ideal relations across the color line have never fully escaped their contexts of domination and subordination. Race, Work, and Desire stands as an important contribution to that growing body of scholarly work that is revising the history of American literary along the color line." Kenneth Warren, University of Chicago
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Michele Elam (née Birnbaum) is Martin Luther King, Jr Centennial Professor, Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Professor of English and Director of Curriculum at Stanford University. She is the author of The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium (2011) and editor of The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (forthcoming, 2014). Chair of the Executive Committee for the Black Literatures and Culture Division of the Modern Language Association (2009-13), at Stanford University she has served as Director of the Program in African and African American Studies (2007-10) and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of English (2006-8). Elam is twice the recipient of the St Clair Drake Outstanding Teaching Award at Stanford (2004 and 2006).

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations viii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: working relations and racial desire 1

1 Dressing down the First Lady: Elizabeth Keckley's Behind The Scenes, or Thirty Years A Slave And Four Years In The White House 28

2 Off-color patients in Frances E. W. Harper's Iola Leroy and W. D. Howells's An Imperative Duty 58

3 "Alien hands" in Kate Chopin's The Awakening 76

4 "For blood that is not yours": Langston Hughes and the art of patronage 94

Epilogue: "co-workers in the kingdom of culture" 146

Notes 152

Index 191

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