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Black Writers, White Publishers

Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics in Twentieth- Century African American Literature

John K. Young
Copyright Date: 2006
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    Black Writers, White Publishers
    Book Description:

    Jean Toomer'sCanewas advertised as "a book about Negroes by a Negro," despite his request not to promote the book along such racial lines. Nella Larsen switched the title of her second novel fromNigtoPassing, because an editor felt the original title "might be too inflammatory." In order to publish his first novel as a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection Richard Wright deleted a scene inNative Sondepicting Bigger Thomas masturbating. Toni Morrison changed the last word ofBelovedat her editor's request and switched the title ofParadisefromWarto allay her publisher's marketing concerns.

    Although many editors place demands on their authors, these examples invite special scholarly attention given the power imbalance between white editors and publishers and African American authors.Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics in Twentieth-Century African American Literatureexamines the complex negotiations behind the production of African American literature.

    In chapters on Larsen'sPassing, Ishmael Reed'sMumbo Jumbo, Gwendolyn Brooks'sChildren Coming Home, Morrison's "Oprah's Book Club" selections, and Ralph Ellison'sJuneteenth, John K. Young presents the first book-length application of editorial theory to African American literature. Focusing on the manuscripts, drafts, book covers, colophons, and advertisements that trace book production, Young expands upon the concept of socialized authorship and demonstrates how the study of publishing history and practice and African American literary criticism enrich each other.

    John K. Young is an associate professor of English at Marshall University. His work has appeared in journals such asCollege English,African American Review, andCritique.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-549-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION Real Fictions of Race and Textuality
    (pp. 3-36)

    Boni and Liveright advertisedCane(1923) as “a book about Negroes by a Negro,” despite Jean Toomer’s express request not to promote the book along such racial lines (Larson 25; Toomer 157). Nella Larsen agreed to switch the title of her second novel fromNigtoPassing(1929) because an editor at Knopf felt the original title “might be too inflammatory for a novel by an unproven writer, while ‘Passing,’ and the phenomenon’s connection to miscegenation, would incite interest without giving offense” (T. Davis 306–7). Richard Wright revised and deleted several scenes inNative Son(1940) depicting Bigger Thomas...

  5. CHAPTER ONE PASSING (ON) TEXTUAL HISTORY The Ends of Nella Larsen’s Passing
    (pp. 37-64)

    Nella Larsen’sPassinghas become one of the most widely read New Negro Renaissance novels in recent years, but no one really knows how it ends. By this I do not mean that critics have not determined how much guilt to assign Irene Redfield in Clare Kendry’s fatal fall, or to what extent the narrative is actually a lesbian story “passing” as a racial one. I mean the ending is actually unknowable, because the original last paragraph disappeared from the first edition’s third printing, and no extant evidence can explain this change. There is no conclusive answer to the question...

  6. CHAPTER TWO BLACK PAGE, WHITE COPYRIGHT The Politics of Print in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo
    (pp. 65-93)

    InMumbo Jumbo(1972), Ishmael Reed implicitly parallels the New Negro and Black Arts movements, two brief periods in literary history which witnessed both collaborative and uneasy exchanges between white publishing houses and black authors. Just as Larsen occupied a sometimes tenuous relationship with her white benefactors, the Knopfs and Carl Van Vechten, so too did Reed negotiate a tentative partnership with Doubleday, his mainstream publisher during the late 1960s and early ’70s. The first edition ofMumbo Jumbostrikingly responds to this cultural tension with a black copyright page, foregrounding the issues of literary property and artistic authenticity that...

    (pp. 94-118)

    In 1967, Gwendolyn Brooks famously became a black nationalist poet. At a Fisk University conference, Brooks explained to Claudia Tate, she encountered poets who “felt that black poets should write as blacks, about blacks, and address themselves to blacks” (40, original emphasis). Brooks had published her first six books with Harper and Brothers (later Harper and Row):A Street to Bronzeville(1945),Annie Allen(1949),Maud Martha(1953),Bronzeville Boys and Girls(1956),The Bean Eaters(1960), andSelected Poems(1963). The appearance ofIn the Meccain 1968, over Harper’s initial objections, inaugurated what has become known as the...

    (pp. 119-149)

    In June 2003, Oprah Winfrey launched her television book club anew, with John Steinbeck’sEast of Edenas the first selection. Paperback copies of the fifty-one-year-old novel immediately appeared in bookstores nationwide (they had been held in sealed cartons until Winfrey’s official announcement), with wrappers around the front cover declaring it “The Book That Brought Oprah’s Book Club Back.” TheOprah Winfrey Showalso broughtEast of Edenback: by July it had risen to the second spot onUSA Today’sbest-seller list (above Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir but below the latest installment in the Harry Potter series). Annual sales...

    (pp. 150-182)

    Juneteenthis a fragment that passes for a novel. Its first edition includes 380 pages of text, with introduction, notes, and an afterword, all elegantly printed on thick, ragged-edge paper. The front jacket presents Ellison’s name in large brown capitals, above the title in smaller white letters, and, in smaller white letters still, the legends “A Novel” below the title and “BY THE AUTHOR OF INVISIBLE MAN” beneath a photo of an African American band performing on a sidewalk. The back jacket consists entirely of a black-and-white photo of Ellison, the back of his head and neck fading into dark...

  10. CONCLUSION Race, History, and Editorial Ethics
    (pp. 183-193)

    In the December 1945 issue ofNegro Digest, Zora Neale Hurston published a bitingly satirical article entitled “Crazy for This Democracy,” in which she wonders if she has misunderstood Franklin D. Roosevelt referring to the “arse-and-all” of American democracy “when I thought he said plain arsenal?” (I Love Myself165–66). With the war over and without the editorial constraints imposed by Lippincott, Hurston included in this piece much of the social criticism she had allowed to be deleted or softened inDust Tracks on a Roadthree years earlier. Within the African American community, the end of the war...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 194-207)
    (pp. 208-220)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 221-230)