The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950sby Mary Helen Washington
Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular
Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular Front. Washington's work incorporates these black intellectuals back into our understanding of mid-twentieth-century African American literature and art and expands our understanding of the creative ferment energizing all of America during this period.
Mary Helen Washington reads four representative writersLloyd Brown, Frank London Brown, Alice Childress, and Gwendolyn Brooksand surveys the work of the visual artist Charles White. She traces resonances of leftist ideas and activism in their artistic achievements and follows their balanced critique of the mainstream liberal and conservative political and literary spheres. Her study recounts the targeting of African American as well as white writers during the McCarthy era, reconstructs the events of the 1959 Black Writers' Conference in New York, and argues for the ongoing influence of the Black Popular Front decades after it folded. Defining the contours of a distinctly black modernism and its far-ranging radicalization of American politics and culture, Washington fundamentally reorients scholarship on African American and Cold War literature and life.
Washington (English, Univ. of Maryland, College Park) provides an alternate look at McCarthyism through the lives of five African American writers and artists.
In this groundbreaking book, University of Maryland literature professor Washington uncovers and recovers the “minimized, or omitted... influence of the Communist Party and the Left” in African-American arts and letters during the 1950s. FBI informants, she observes, were often “far more enterprising and thorough than most literary historians,” thus enabling Washington to retrieve details of “Black-Left history” absent from current anthologies. Focusing on six artists—novelist Lloyd L. Brown, graphic artist Charles White, playwright Alice Childress, poet and novelist Gwendolyn Brooks, novelist Frank London Brown, and novelist Julian Mayfield—her work aims to recast who we read and transform how we read. Her analysis of Brown’s Iron City as, in aspects, a parody of Wright’s Native Son, for example, illuminates both works, and her countering of the “force fed… tale of sudden and unprecedented conversion to blackness and radicalism” with “her earlier left-wing radicalism” adds fresh insight. Washington attends to the “range of relationships with the left,” from Communist Party membership to “idiosyncratic radicalism” and “silences and self-censorship.” “What if you put the black literary and cultural Left at the center of African American studies during the Cold War?,” Washington asks. Her thought-provoking reply opens a conversation. Illus. (Apr.)
- Columbia University Press
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What People are saying about this
The Cold War erased red politics from our reading of midcentury black art. Washington brings it back with eloquence and dense documentation. If you believe in freedom, read this book.
Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Frank London Brown... these ought to be household names in American letters and politics, as well as African American studies. In a brilliant work of historical reconstruction and (re)vision, Washington not only rescues these critical artists/intellectuals artist-intellectuals from obscurity and restores them to history but also rewrites that historyrecasting the 1950s as a period of black radical critique, revolutionary fervor, political noncompliance, state repression and surveillance, and a flowering of black artistic imagination.'
A groundbreaking and eye-opening study. In Washington's sure hands, biography, politics, and cultural history combine to open new intellectual vistas.
Meet the Author
Mary Helen Washington is a professor in the English Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is the editor of Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by Black Women Writers; Midnight Birds: Stories of Contemporary Black Women Writers; Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women; and Memory of Kin: Stories of Family by Black Writers.
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