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Desegregating Desire

Desegregating Desire: Race and Sexuality in Cold War American Literature

Tyler T. Schmidt
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Desegregating Desire
    Book Description:

    A study of race and sexuality and their interdependencies in American literature from 1945 to 1955, Desegregating Desire examines the varied strategies used by eight American poets and novelists to integrate sexuality into their respective depictions of desegregated places and emergent identities in the aftermath of World War II. Focusing on both progressive and conventional forms of cross-race writing and interracial intimacy, the book is organized around four pairs of writers. Chapter one examines reimagined domestic places, and the ambivalent desires that define them, in the southern writing of Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston. The second chapter; focused on poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Edwin Denby, analyzes their representations of the postwar American city, representations which often transpose private desires into a public imaginary. Chapter three explores how insular racial communities in the novels of Ann Petry and William Demby were related to non-normative sexualities emerging in the early Cold War. The final chapter, focused on damaged desires, considers the ways that novelists Jo Sinclair and Carl Offord, relocate the public traumas of desegregation with the private spheres of homes and psyches.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-946-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction The Half-Told Histories of Desegregation
    (pp. 3-37)

    I always wander back to the scene in Ann Petry’s The Narrows when Camilo Sheffield visits, for the fifth time that week, The Last Chance, an ungenteel working-class bar in a black neighborhood of Monmouth, Connecticut. A figure of whiteness, marked by her blond hair, she sits among the judging eyes of the black men around the bar, quiet in its afternoon. Camilo, hungry for “her” man, is understood by all of us who have ever been left longing. The scotch is no salve. The just-ended record punctuates the silence and its desperation. She is neither welcomed nor made to...

  5. Ambivalent Desires Elizabeth Bishop, Zora Neale Hurston, and Domestic Desegregation
    (pp. 38-86)

    Describing the sublimation of racial and sexual shame as the “dark-town of our unconscious,” Lillian Smith in Killers of the Dream reminds us that desegregation in American literary culture is located in the interplay between physical spaces and psychological upheavals. Arguing that segregation must be read in relation to suppressed desires and taboo practices, Smith writes, “The lesson on segregation was only a logical extension of the lessons on sex and white superiority and God. Not only Negroes but everything dark, dangerous, evil must be pushed to the rim of one’s life” (90). Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston visit...

  6. War City Gwendolyn Brooks, Edwin Denby, and the Private Poetics of Public Space
    (pp. 87-135)

    In the American cultural imagination, the northern city often represents the site of progressive social change, the coming together of urban dwellers across races, cultures, and languages in New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. The literary projects of Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston, despite textual excursions into New York, locate desegregationist desires within the particulars of southern domestic spaces. The northern urban centers were experiencing their own transformations after the war. African American women, often the last hired and paid the lowest wages, entered new professions in record numbers during the nation’s wartime economic growth and postwar expansion.¹ Through...

  7. White Pervert William Demby, Ann Petry, and the Queer Desires of Racial Belonging
    (pp. 136-178)

    The preceding chapter explored varied articulations of sexuality—queer abjection, the erotics of public space, and the intimate negotiations of marriage—by African American women and white homosexual men in American cities transformed by World War II. In exploring Gwendolyn Brooks’s poems and prose in which black women reimagine both domestic duty and their public identities, I considered that African Americans’ desegregation also can be a queer intrusion, arousing similar feelings of defiance, doubt, shame, and pleasure to those experienced by gays and lesbians in their own claims to public space. The representations of and resistances to sexual containment in...

  8. Damaged Desires Jo Sinclair, Carl Offord, and the Traumas of Integration
    (pp. 179-220)

    In a 1946 radio interview, Jewish novelist Jo Sinclair, assessing America’s social ills in the wake of World War II, explained, “I call them ghettos. There’s one named anti-Semitism and one called racial hatred. Any kind of segregation is a ghetto, whether it’s mental, spiritual or physical segregation, and of any group, religion or race. The largest ghetto is one of the mind” (Sidney R. Williams).¹ Three years earlier, African American writer Carl Offord also cited the spatial segregation of the ghetto as a symptom of the nation’s larger psychological dysfunction, warning, “The ghetto in our midst is like a...

  9. Conclusion: Intimate Failures
    (pp. 221-228)

    Returning to America in 1957 to report on the expanding civil rights movement, James Baldwin confessed, “I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life” (“Take” 385). The dissonance between private desire and public expression that Baldwin bemoans is central to the understanding of desegregation pursued throughout this project. We might read the literature discussed in Desegregating Desire as a diverse body of writing that...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 229-248)
    (pp. 249-270)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 271-279)