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The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865

The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865

Dickson D. Bruce
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 374
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    The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865
    Book Description:

    From the earliest texts of the colonial period to works contemporary with Emancipation, African American literature has been a dialogue across color lines, and a medium through which black writers have been able to exert considerable authority on both sides of that racial demarcation.

    Dickson D. Bruce argues that contrary to prevailing perceptions of African American voices as silenced and excluded from American history, those voices were loud and clear. Within the context of the wider culture, these writers offered powerful, widely read, and widely appreciated commentaries on American ideals and ambitions. The Origins of African American Literature provides strong evidence to demonstrate just how much writers engaged in a surprising number of dialogues with society as a whole.

    Along with an extensive discussion of major authors and texts, including Phillis Wheatley's poetry, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Martin Delany's Blake, Bruce explores less-prominent works and writers as well, thereby grounding African American writing in its changing historical settings. The Origins of African American Literature is an invaluable revelation of the emergence and sources of the specifically African American literary tradition and the forces that helped shape it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2193-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 Background to an African American Literature, 1680–1760
    (pp. 1-38)

    To understand the origins of African American letters, it is necessary first to understand the framework within which a black literary enterprise could develop. This framework, antedating the first known publications by African American writers, was the product of complex issues of voice and authority, appropriation and attribution in colonial America and metropolitan Britain. Such issues grew out of the tendencies and ambiguities of race relations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as the tensions and tendencies in understandings of color, similarity, and difference during the first 150 years of British settlement in mainland North America. All these...

  6. 2 The Age of Revolution, 1760–1800
    (pp. 39-91)

    The world in which Lucy Terry, Jupiter Hammon, and Briton Hammon created the initial writing by African Americans was to undergo drastic change almost as soon as the works of the last two, at least, had seen the light of day. The instability in relations between Britain and the American colonies following the 1763 conclusion of the Seven Years’ War powerfully affected race relations, especially slavery. As instability culminated in warfare and American independence, these events, too, affected both the possibilities for continuing literary creation and the character of the work black writers produced.

    Issues of color and slavery were...

  7. 3 Literary Identity in the New Nation, 1800–1816
    (pp. 92-134)

    Over the first two decades of the nineteenth century the situations facing African American writers differed in important ways from those of the Revolutionary period. The result was heightened efforts to create a distinctive African American voice within a context in which black-voiced indictments or commentaries on American affairs continued to have significance. These efforts themselves continued to build on modes of self-assertion and identity that went back to the colonial period while incorporating new elements and new concerns in African American life.

    The first decade of the nineteenth century presented reasons for both optimism and pessimism on issues of...

  8. 4 The Era of Colonization, 1816–1828
    (pp. 135-174)

    After the time of the American Revolution nothing spurred thinking about issues of African American literary activity, of African American voice and authority, like the creation and activities of the American Colonization Society, including its program of encouraging African American emigration to Africa. Operationalizing notions of a white American national identity, though led by white Americans whose motives varied widely, the society from the outset had tense and complex relationships with African Americans, especially with the free people of color at whom much of its program was aimed. Even though many had been drawn to Cuffe’s program and to those...

  9. 5 The Liberator and the Shaping of African American Tradition, 1829–1832
    (pp. 175-210)

    A period of just under four years, beginning roughly in the middle of 1829 and extending into 1832, was critical for African American literary life. These years were marked by powerful challenges to African Americans in many parts of the United States that represented real setbacks. They were also marked by new and influential voices and new and significant developments that affected the course of African American literary traditions.

    One challenge derived from the demise ofFreedom’s Journal.For six months, beginning in May 1829, one of the Journal ’s founders, Samuel Cornish, attempted to develop a successor publication,The...

  10. 6 Literary Expression in the Age of Abolitionism, 1833–1849
    (pp. 211-256)

    The decades of the 1830s and 1840s were among the most complex for free people of color in the United States since the era of the American Revolution, and in ways that had great impact on literary as well as other endeavors. The most important factor in helping to shape that impact was the continuing growth of the movement for immediate abolition, a movement that, if it remained small in size, was to gain in visibility throughout the era. Black men and women participated in the earliest and most influential of the abolitionist organizations. Important leaders who remained active through...

  11. 7 African American Voices in the American Crisis, 1850–1861
    (pp. 257-300)

    Beginning in 1850 the developing political crisis in the United States over slavery had profound effects on African American writers and on the role of the African American voice in American life. Important continuities from the preceding decades still framed much that characterized African American literary forms. Thematic constants based on the experiences of slavery and oppression remained key elements in African American writing. Issues of authority and independence that had been taking shape within abolitionism for the preceding twenty years were further elaborated and debated as the movement matured and black participation increased.

    Nevertheless, the 1850s brought concerns of...

  12. 8 The War for Emancipation and Beyond
    (pp. 301-314)

    If there was much in the 1850s to encourage thinking about conflict and violence among abolitionists, the end of the decade saw a series of events that made such thought seem more pressing still. To some extent such thought was born of a pessimism brought on by such events as the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott Decision, which in effect institutionalized racial prejudice as the basis for all of American law and practice. That same pessimism underlay, for example, the widespread interest in emigration by about 1859 and 1860. For many abolitionists, there was an increasing sense that Garrisonian moral...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 315-334)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 335-360)
  15. Index
    (pp. 361-374)