Visualizing Blackness and the Creation of the African American Literary Tradition

Visualizing Blackness and the Creation of the African American Literary Tradition

by Lena Hill


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Negative stereotypes of African Americans have long been disseminated through the visual arts. This original and incisive study examines how black writers use visual tropes as literary devices to challenge readers' conceptions of black identity. Lena Hill charts two hundred years of African American literary history, from Phillis Wheatley to Ralph Ellison, and engages with a variety of canonical and lesser-known writers. Chapters interweave literary history, museum culture, and visual analysis of numerous illustrations with close readings of Booker T. Washington, Gwendolyn Bennett, Zora Neale Hurston, Melvin Tolson, and others. Together, these sections register the degree to which African American writers rely on vision – its modes, consequences, and insights – to demonstrate black intellectual and cultural sophistication. Hill's provocative study will interest scholars and students of African American literature and American literature more broadly.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781316639276
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 11/02/2017
Series: Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture , #167
Pages: 293
Product dimensions: 5.91(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Lena Hill is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa. She is the co-author of Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man': A Reference Guide (2008). Her work has been published in journals such as American Literature and African American Review. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University, Connecticut.

Table of Contents

Introduction: the trope of the picture book; Part I. Sights of Instruction: 1. Witnessing moral authority in pre-abolition literature; 2. Picturing education and labor in Washington and Du Bois; 3. Gazing upon plastic art in the Harlem Renaissance; Part II. Lessons from the Museum: 4. Zora Neale Hurston: seeing by the rules of the Natural History Museum; 5. Melvin Tolson: gaining modernist perspective in the art gallery; 6. Ralph Ellison: engaging racial perception beyond museum walls; Coda: redefining the look of American character.

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