A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism

A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism

by Christopher Douglas

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A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism by Christopher Douglas

As an anthropology student studying with Franz Boas, Zora Neale Hurston recorded African American folklore in rural central Florida, studied hoodoo in New Orleans and voodoo in Haiti, talked with the last ex-slave to survive the Middle Passage, and collected music from Jamaica. Her ethnographic work would serve as the basis for her novels and other writings in which she shaped a vision of African American Southern rural folk culture articulated through an antiracist concept of culture championed by Boas: culture as plural, relative, and long-lived. Meanwhile, a very different antiracist model of culture learned from Robert Park's sociology allowed Richard Wright to imagine African American culture in terms of severed traditions, marginal consciousness, and generation gaps.

In A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism, Christopher Douglas uncovers the largely unacknowledged role played by ideas from sociology and anthropology in nourishing the politics and forms of minority writers from diverse backgrounds. Douglas divides the history of multicultural writing in the United States into three periods. The first, which spans the 1920s and 1930s, features minority writers such as Hurston and D'Arcy McNickle, who were indebted to the work of Boas and his attempts to detach culture from race.

The second period, from 1940 to the mid-1960s, was a time of assimilation and integration, as seen in the work of authors such as Richard Wright, Jade Snow Wong, John Okada, and Ralph Ellison, who were influenced by currents in sociological thought. The third period focuses on the writers we associate with contemporary literary multiculturalism, including Toni Morrison, N. Scott Momaday, Frank Chin, Ishmael Reed, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Douglas shows that these more recent writers advocated a literary nationalism that was based on a modified Boasian anthropology and that laid the pluralist grounds for our current conception of literary multiculturalism.

Ultimately, Douglas's "unified field theory" of multicultural literature brings together divergent African American, Asian American, Mexican American, and Native American literary traditions into one story: of how we moved from thinking about groups as races to thinking about groups as cultures—and then back again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801477119
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 01/13/2011
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Christopher Douglas is Professor of English at the University of Victoria. He is the author of If God Meant to Interfere: American Literature and the Rise of the Christian Right and A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism, both from Cornell.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Multiculturalism's Cultural Revolution 1

1 The Culture of Anthropology Zora Neale Hurston D'Arcy McNickle 21

2 The Literature of Sociology Richard Wright Robert Park 60

3 Desegregation Jade Snow Wong Ralph Ellison 97

4 The Sociology of Internment John Okada 128

5 The Folklore of the Border Américo Paredes 158

6 Cultural Nationalisms, 1965-1975 Toni Morrison Frank Chin 184

7 Blood and Identity N. Scott Momaday 220

8 Ishmael Reed and the Search for Survivals 260

9 Gloria Anzaldúa, Aztlán, and Aztec Survivals 286

Conclusion: The Multicultural Complex and the Incoherence of Literary Multiculturalism 307

Notes 327

Bibliography 345

Index 363

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