Black Regions of the Imagination

Black Regions of the Imagination: African American Writers between the Nation and the World

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Black Regions of the Imagination
    Book Description:

    Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes were all pressured by critics and publishers to enlighten mainstream (white) audiences about race and African American culture. Focusing on fiction and non-fiction they produced between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, Eve Dunbar's important book,Black Regions of the Imagination, examines how these African American writers-who lived and traveled outside the United States-both document and re-imagine their "homegrown" racial experiences within a worldly framework.

    From Hurston's participant-observational accounts and Wright's travel writing to Baldwin'sAnother Countryand Himes' detective fiction, these writers helped develop the concept of a "region" of blackness that resists boundaries of genre and geography. Each writer represents-and signifies-blackness in new ways and within the larger context of the world. As they negotiated issues of "belonging," these writers were more critical of social segregation in America as well as increasingly resistant to their expected roles as cultural "translators."

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0944-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    On August 25, 1970, anthropologist Margaret Mead and writer James Baldwin met for the first time to have three recorded conversations, totaling more than seven hours of tape that, once transcribed, would compose the bookA Rap on Race(1971). The Mead and Baldwin book is an amazing account documenting the meeting of two of the twentieth century’s most paradigmatic thinkers and cultural creators discussing the meaning of “race” in the United States and in the world. Yet it seems most important to say thatA Rap on Raceis also a documentation of miscommunication, oversimplification, and overstatement.

    In fact,...

  6. 1 Becoming American through Ethnographic Writing: Zora Neale Hurston and the Performance of Ethnography
    (pp. 16-57)

    In 1954, Zora Neale Hurston admitted to her friend William Bradford Huie that she was gripped by the desire to puke when she read the works of writers such as Richard Wright because she felt they pandered to the white desire for black pathology and inferiority.² Although she may have been a bit hyperbolic in her description of her reaction, Hurston’s visceral aversion was not an isolated example of textual tension between Wright and Hurston. Back in 1937, Wright had reviewed and pannedTheir Eyes Were Watching Godbecause he felt that Hurston merely replicated “facile sensuality that ha[d] dogged...

  7. 2 Escape through Ethnography: Literary Regionalism and the Image of Nonracial Alignment in Richard Wright’s Travel Writing
    (pp. 58-90)

    “I am a rootless man,” Richard Wright declares very early inWhite Man, Listen!(1957). It is a simple utterance meant to capture the tie between his statelessness and his humanity. “I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment, of aloneness; it does not bother me; indeed, to me it seems the natural, inevitable condition of man, and I welcome it,” says Wright.³ Many readers will note that Wright’s statement is shaped by his acquaintance with French existentialism; but if we consider that his personal and literary roots are grounded in Jim Crow America—roots...

  8. 3 Deconstructing the Romance of Ethnography: Queering Knowledge in James Baldwin’s Another Country
    (pp. 91-125)

    In August 1970, sitting across from Margaret Mead, James Baldwin recalls a run-in with the employees of a Tallahassee bank who had refused to cash his $250 check. Three months into researching a story on the American South, Baldwin was broke and desperate for money that might ward off any vagrancy charges that would land him on a chain gang. With real or imagined cops at his heels, Baldwin says that he could not allow racism to keep him and his money separated: “I saw everybody in that bank before they would cash that check. I was determined that they...

  9. 4 Ethnography of the Absurd: Chester Himes’s Detective Fiction and Counterimages of Black Life
    (pp. 126-152)

    In January 1957, Marcel Duhamel² approached Chester Himes to write a crime novel for the Gallimard publishing house’sSérie noir.³ Himes, who, like so many of his African American contemporaries,⁴ had left the United States four years earlier to live in Europe, was finding it difficult to sustain himself financially and agreed to write for theSérie noirbecause the publisher advanced him a thousand dollars on the novel.⁵ And while Himes had no qualms about writing strictly for money, the success in France of the novel La reine des pommes⁶ encouraged him to continue writing in the genre.


  10. Conclusion: Look Down! The Black Arts Affirmation of Place and the Refusal to Translate
    (pp. 153-172)

    More than a decade after the landmark desegregation case ofBrown v. Board of Education(1954), three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in the midst of the Vietnam War, on July 29, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11365. The United States government was in a state of admitted confusion with regard to its relationship with African American citizens and urban race relations. The executive order called for the formation of an advisory commission to investigate the urban “disorders” taking place in black communities across the nation. Johnson charged the commission with figuring it...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-192)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)