South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature

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With characteristic originality and insight, Trudier Harris-Lopez offers a new and challenging approach to the work of African American writers in these twelve previously unpublished essays. Collectively, the essays show the vibrancy of African American literary creation across several decades of the twentieth century. But Harris-Lopez's readings of the various texts deliberately diverge from traditional ways of viewing traditional topics.

South of Tradition focuses not only on well-known writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, but also on up-and-coming writers such as Randall Kenan and less-known writers such as Brent Wade and Henry Dumas. Harris-Lopez addresses themes of sexual and racial identity, reconceptualizations of and transcendence of Christianity, analyses of African American folk and cultural traditions, and issues of racial justice. Many of her subjects argue that geography shapes identity, whether that geography is the European territory many blacks escaped to from the oppressive South, or the South itself, where generations of African Americans have had to come to grips with their relationship to the land and its history. For Harris-Lopez, "south of tradition" refers both to geography and to readings of texts that are not in keeping with expected responses to the works. She explains her point of departure for the essays as "a slant, an angle, or a jolt below the line of what would be considered the norm for usual responses to African American literature."

The scope of Harris-Lopez's work is tremendous. From her coverage of noncanonical writers to her analysis of humor in the best-selling The Color Purple, she provides essential material that should inform all future readings of African American literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The scope of this work—and of Harris's scholarship in general—is mind-boggling. Harris-Lopez writes brilliantly on a range of subjects, works, and authors. She is one of the most inspired and inspiring minds of our times."--Daryl Cumber Dance, editor of From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore

"Trudier Harris seldom fails to astonish us critically with the range and ambitiousness of her projects. Her scholarly dedication has influenced generations. It is difficult to imagine how different our intellectual landscape would be without her."--Houston A. Baker, Jr., author of Turning South Again: Re-Thinking Modernism/Re-Reading Booker T.

"Trudier Harris-Lopez has one of the most original and synthentic minds in a great long while. The range of her knowledge is astounding, the candor of her conclusions are astonishing, and the sum total is just wonderful."--Frances Smith Foster, author of Written By Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746–1892

"Highlight[s] a scholarly career of originality and complex vision . . . [A] bold, comprehensive and ingenious volume that proves good theory is not always ‘high theory.’ . . . [A] mark of excellence that deserves the accolades it is sure to receive."--Southern Literary Journal

"Trudier Harris-Lopez is one of the leading literary critics of our generation."--Henry Louis Gates Jr., author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man

"Throughout South of Tradition, the most compelling readings are those that attempt to open the door to ‘real’ black lives outside theory. . . . South of Tradition will provoke, if not please, all. But that is what makes it such an admirable contribution.”--American Literature

"Harris-Lopez's readers are in the hands of one of the most experienced critics of African-American literature in the academy today, and her confident, authoritative style of writing conveys this fact."--Mississippi Quarterly

"[T]he author does something rare among scholars: she revisits her past writing and, where appropriate, updates some of her views. . . . The critiques in this collection are jarring and enlightening because of their accuracy. Harris-Lopez's approach to studying various African American literary forms is unique because she recognizes that growth is common to readers as well as writers."--Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820324333
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Trudier Harris-Lopez is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is co-editor of The Oxford Companion to African American Literature and author of The Power of the Porch (Georgia) and Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison.
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Table of Contents

1 Humor in Alice Walker's The Color Purple 1
2 Slanting the Truth: Homosexuality, Manhood, and Race in James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room 18
3 New Invisible Man: Revisiting a Nightmare in the 1990s (Brent Wade's Company Man and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man) 31
4 Zapping the Editor, Or, How to Tell Censors to Kiss Off without Really Trying: Zora Neale Hurston's Fights with Authority Figures in Dust Tracks on a Road 51
5 Architecture as Destiny? Women and Survival Strategies in Ann Petry's The Street 68
6 Chocklit Geography: Raymond Andrews's Mythical South 91
7 The Necessary Binding: Prison Experiences in Three August Wilson Plays 121
8 Hands beyond the Grave: Henry Dumas's Influence on Toni Morrison 140
9 Salting the Land but Not the Imagination: William Melvin Kelley's A Different Drummer 149
10 Transformations of the Land in Randall Kenan's "The Foundations of the Earth" 160
11 Expectations Too Great: The Failure of Racial Calling in Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth 175
12 Ugly Legacies of the Harlem Renaissance and Earlier: Soul Food and New Negroes 196
Index 217
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