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Each Hour Redeem

Each Hour Redeem: Time and Justice in African American Literature

Daylanne K. English
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Each Hour Redeem
    Book Description:

    Each Hour Redeemadvances a major reinterpretation of African American literature from the late eighteenth century to the present by demonstrating how its authors are centrally concerned with racially different experiences of time. Daylanne K. English argues that, from Phillis Wheatley to Suzan-Lori Parks, African American writers have depicted distinctive forms of temporality to challenge racial injustices supported by dominant ideas of time. The first book to explore the representation of time throughout the African American literary canon,Each Hour Redeemilluminates how the pervasive and potent tropes of timekeeping provide the basis for an overarching new understanding of the tradition.

    Combing literary, historical, legal, and philosophical approaches,Each Hour Redeemexamines a wide range of genres, including poetry, fiction, drama, slave narratives, and other forms of nonfiction. English shows that much of African American literature is characterized by "strategic anachronism," the use of prior literary forms to investigate contemporary political realities, as seen in Walter Mosley's recent turn to hard-boiled detective fiction. By contrast, "strategic presentism" is exemplified in the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance and their investment in contemporary political potentialities, for example, in Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka's adaptation of the jazz of their eras for poetic form and content. Overall, the book effectively demonstrates how African American writers have employed multiple and complex conceptions of time not only to trace racial injustice but also to help construct a powerful literary tradition across the centuries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3944-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Political Fictions
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book demonstrates that, across genre and era, African American writers have disclosed and explored the complex and high philosophical and material stakes inherent in time and its measure. They have long understood that time, justice, and the written word are deeply intertwined—so much so that this triad lies at the heart of the African American literary tradition, and from its very beginning. The publisher’s preface to Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 bookPoems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first published book by an African American author, states that “the following poems were written originally for the Amusement of...

  5. 1 Ticking, Not Talking: Timekeeping in Early African American Literature
    (pp. 25-46)

    With little controversy, African American literature has conventionally been understood as following a distinct timeline, as possessing its own literary genealogy and history. The toweringNorton Anthology of African American Literature, with its explicit aims “to make available in one representative anthology the major texts in the tradition and to construct a canon inductively,”¹ dates that tradition from 1746 to the present, identifying Lucy Terry’s 1746 poem “Bars Fight” as the “earliest known work of literature by an African American.”² Even when they dispute theNorton’s selection process or its point of origin for the tradition, competing anthologies concur that...

  6. 2 ʺTemporal Damageʺ: Pragmatism and Plessy in African American Novels, 1896–1902
    (pp. 47-79)

    In 1853 when William Wells Brown’sClotel; or, The President’s Daughter, believed to be the first African American–authored novel, was published, black people in the United States—regardless of region, class, free or slave status, or skin tone—could be fully AfricanAmericanonly in fiction. That this first sustained African American fiction was about Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress and their daughters and granddaughters highlights the instrumentalism of the first published African American novel and of the four, known to date, that followed it in the mid-nineteenth century. As William Andrews has suggested, the authors of these novels turned...

  7. 3 ʺThe Death of the Last Black Manʺ: Repetition, Lynching, and Capital Punishment in Twentieth-Century African American Literature
    (pp. 80-102)

    W. E. B. Du Bois’sThe Souls of Black Folk(1903) bridges the gap between the despair of many late nineteenth-century African American novels and the relative optimism of the Harlem Renaissance. Looking to the past in order to understand—and to the future in order to exceed—a dire present, Hopkins, Dunbar, Chesnutt, and Griggs prepared the ground forSouls, which in turn writes an epitaph for their revisionary and visionary projects. Du Bois’s rich blend of genres and disciplines—political and social history, personal narrative, philosophy, music history, and so on—thus resolves perhaps most readily into elegy....

  8. 4 ʺSeize the Time!ʺ Strategic Presentism in the Black Arts Movement
    (pp. 103-128)

    That many black thinkers from the late 1950s through the early 1970s were preoccupied by time and philosophies of time is highlighted by the formation of the Dasein Literary Society, a circle of black writers originally based at Howard University. The group started forming as early as 1958; they published a literary journal, also calledDasein, from 1961 through 1973.¹ The name of both group and journal testifies to the writers’ engagement with the work of Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), who understood human subjectivity to be a condition of individuality in and over time and coined the term “Dasein,”being...

  9. 5 Being Black There: Contemporary African American Detective Fiction
    (pp. 129-157)

    Since 1990, Walter Mosley, Barbara Neely, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Anthony Gar Haywood, Nichelle Tramble, and Valerie Wilson Wesley, among a number of other African American authors, have chosen to write not just one detective novel but a series of detective novels. In response to that ever-expanding list of authors and works, quite a few valuable essays and book-length studies of contemporary African American and “ethnic” detective fiction have been published in recent years.¹ Yet for all the attention being paid to African American detective fiction, the reasons for its contemporary flourishing remain a mystery. Few critics have engaged the question...

  10. Conclusion: Political Truths
    (pp. 158-170)

    Despite the clear centrality of time in the African American literary tradition, it has remained relatively neglected as a category of analysis. To my knowledge there has been only one other book-length study of time in relation to black writing, Bonnie J. Barthold’s groundbreakingBlack Time: Fiction of Africa, Caribbean, and the United States(1981).¹ Barthold argues that a “focus on time” in black fiction, which she defines as any fiction written by a black author of African descent, shows how diasporic black writing can be considered as a whole, united by form and content, or by what she calls...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-196)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-230)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)