American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler, edited by Wai Chee Dimock with Jordan Brower, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Hutzler, and Nicholas Rinehart. New York: Columbia UP. [website] [purchase]
This innovative anthology offers a new way to understand the global forces that have shaped the making of American literature. The wide-ranging selections are structured around five interconnected nodes: war; food; work, play, and travel; religions; and human and nonhuman interfaces. Through these five categories, Wai Chee Dimock and a team of emerging scholars reveal American literature to be a complex network, informed by crosscurrents both macro and micro, with local practices intensified by international concerns. Selections include poetry from Anne Bradstreet to Jorie Graham; the fiction of Herman Melville, Gertrude Stein, and William Faulkner; Benjamin Franklin's parables; Frederick Douglass's correspondence; Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders; Langston Hughes's journalism; and excerpts from The Autobiography of Malcom X as well as Octavia Butler's Dawn. Popular genres such as the crime novels of Raymond Chandler, the comics of Art Spiegelman, the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, and recipes from Alice B. Toklas are all featured. More recent authors include Junot Diaz, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jonathan Safran Foer, Edwidge Danticat, Gary Shteyngart, and Jhumpa Lahiri. These selections speak to readers at all levels and invite them to try out fresh groupings and remap American literature. A continually updated interactive component at www.amlitintheworld.yale.edu complements the anthology.
Refereed Journal Articles
The paper looks anew at Richard Wright's Native Son (1940) by comparing textual divergences between the published novel and an earlier typeset manuscript with Wright’s handwritten revisions from roughly 1939. It argues that the author’s revisions render protagonist Bigger Thomas an icon of global class conflict rather than a national figure of racial tension. By revealing the significant thematic continuities among three theoretical essays that bookend the writing of Native Son, the paper shows how the novel’s restructuring contributed to Wright's ongoing elaboration of a globalist class consciousness, highlighting his desire to produce work that transcended both national and racial categories. Finally, it considers Native Son as a work of “world literature.” By examining “translations” of the novel into various postcolonial or Third World contexts, it argues that the global afterlife of Native Son is not a departure from the localized vision of the novel, but rather the recapitulation of its explicit globalism. The article thereby challenges critical convention dividing Wright's career cleanly into two phases: his American works, and the travel writings of his later self-exile. It emphasizes on the contrary that Wright's worldliness should be traced back through his revision of Native Son and earlier critical essays—ultimately finding his globalist class-consciousness not a late-stage development, but rather a single theme that unifies his entire oeuvre.
This essay examines a longstanding normative assumption in the historiography of slavery in the Atlantic world: that enslaved Africans and their American-born descendants were bought and sold as “commodities,” thereby “dehumanizing” them and treating them as things rather than as persons. Such claims have, indeed, helped historians conceptualize how New World slavery contributed to the ongoing development of global finance capitalism—namely, that slaves represented capital as well as labor. But the recurring paradigm of the “dehumanized” or “commodified” slave, I argue, obscures more than it reveals. My article suggests that historians of slavery must reconsider the “commodification” of enslaved humanity. In so doing, it offers three interrelated arguments: first, that scholarship on slavery has not adequately or coherently defined the precise mechanisms by which enslaved people were supposedly “commodified”; second, that the normative position implied by the insistence that persons were treated as things further mystifies or clouds our collective historical vision of enslavement; and third, that we should abandon a strictly Marxian conception of the commodity—and its close relation to notions of “social death"—in favor of Igor Kopytoff’s theory of the commodity-as-process. It puts forth in closing a reconstituted conceptualization of the slave relation wherein enslaved people are understood as thoroughly human.
This essay tackles a question that has preoccupied Francophone postcolonial studies for several decades—namely, what is believed almost unanimously to be the absence of a Francophone equivalent to the slave narrative in English. My article challenges this assumption by reconciling the legacies of slavery in both the Anglophone and Francophone “arenas” to examine their overlap in the French Creole culture of Louisiana. It focuses on the “other” slave narratives—the ex-slave interviews collected by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, specifically those from Louisiana, as well as Texas and Arkansas, that were translated from French or Creole, include French or Creole words or passages, or recount the history of French slavery in the United States. These previously unacknowledged texts reveal how the histories of American and French colonial slaveries converged to produce an “unwritten” Francophone slave narrative tradition.
Non-Refereed Journal Articles
"Sandoval Redux," ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America 17(2): forthcoming.
"On Élie and Eric," Transition: The Magazine of Africa and the Diaspora 117: 13.
A contribution to Transition's “I Can't Breathe” forum, an online space for responses to the murders of unarmed black Americans by police. My piece, which was chosen for publication in the print edition of the magazine, reflected upon the similarities between the death of Eric Garner in New York City and the death of an enslaved sugar refiner named Élie on the Montagne plantation in nineteenth-century Martinique.
"Black Beethoven and the Racial Politics of Music History," Transition: An International Review 112: 117-30.
This article assesses the longstanding myths and debates surrounding the supposed African ancestry of German Romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven. I argue that the “blackwashing” of Beethoven against all historical likelihood is a failed attempt at historical revisionism—while endeavoring to claim Beethoven's genius as a testament to black accomplishment, this recycled and unfounded factoid has had the adverse effect of obscuring the careers and contributions of actual black composers (e.g. Joseph Boulogne de Saint-Georges, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Grant Still). Moreover, this tendency to cast Beethoven as African is mirrored by frequent attempts to “whitewash” the reputations of African-descended composers by referring to them by the names of their white contemporaries (e.g. Black Mozart, Black Mahler). I thus conclude that the classical music canon must be reimagined with race at its center.
"David Dabydeen," Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography, edited by Franklin W. Knight and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Oxford: Oxford UP, forthcoming. [author copy]
"Edgar Austin Mittelhölzer," Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography, edited by Franklin W. Knight and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Oxford: Oxford UP, forthcoming. [author copy]
The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography is a major biographical reference work covering the lives and legacies of notable Afro-descendants from the Caribbean and Latin American, men and women from all eras and walks of life. This groundbreaking resource provides unprecedented coverage of the region through the lives of its people. Biographical records on Afro-Latin American and Caribbean lives are in short supply. Even as new historical scholarship has invigorated the international study of Latin America and Atlantic history, and even as new departments of Latin American Studies have flourished, no large-scale biographical reference work devoted to black subjects in the region has ever been attempted. This is a surprise given the enormous influence the people of these areas have had on history, culture, and technological achievement. The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography (DCALAB) will be published in print with over two thousand in-depth historical biographies of Caribbeans and Latin Americans.
Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature by Daniel Hack (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2016). MLQ: A Journal of Literary History 79(2): forthcoming.