Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction / Edition 1

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With close readings of more than twenty novels by writers including Ernest Gaines, Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, Gloria Naylor, and John Edgar Wideman, Keith Byerman examines the trend among African American novelists of the late twentieth century to write about black history rather than about their own present. Employing cultural criticism and trauma theory, Byerman frames these works as survivor narratives that rewrite the grand American narrative of individual achievement and the march of democracy.

The choice to write historical narratives, he says, must be understood historically. These writers earned widespread recognition for their writing in the 1980s, a period of African American commercial success, as well as the economic decline of the black working class and an increase in black-on-black crime. Byerman contends that a shared experience of suffering joins African American individuals in a group identity, and writing about the past serves as an act of resistance against essentialist ideas of black experience shaping the cultural discourse of the present.

Byerman demonstrates that these novels disrupt the temptation in American society to engage history only to limit its significance or to crown successful individuals while forgetting the victims.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An ambitious, provocative, and important study. . . . Highly recommended."

"This study is an extremely valuable and thoughtful reading of the shift toward history and historical memory in black fiction"
The Journal of American History

"Byerman uses the lenses of memory, family, and desire to produce new interpretations of African American literature."
Journal of African American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807856475
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith Byerman is professor of English and women's studies at Indiana State University and associate editor of African American Review. He is author of four previous books, including The Short Fiction of John Edgar Wideman.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : toward a history of the black present 1
1 History, culture, discourse : America's racial formation 13
2 Burying the dead : the pain of memory in Beloved 27
3 Bearing witness : the recent fiction of Ernest Gaines 38
4 Troubling the water : subversive women's voices in Dessa Rose and Mama Day 54
5 A short history of desire : Jazz and Bailey's cafe 75
6 The color of desire : folk history in the fiction of Raymond Andrews 94
7 Postmodern slavery and the transcendence of desire : the novels of Charles Johnson 107
8 Family secrets : reinventions of history in The Chaneysville incident 125
9 Family troubles : history as subversion in Two wings to veil my face and Divine days 137
10 Lost generations : John Edgar Wideman's Homewood narratives 157
11 Apocalyptic visions and false prophets : the end(s) of history in Wideman, Johnson, and Morrison 179
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