Does African-American Literature Exist?

Kenneth W. Warren in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_10411_landscape_largeI'd like to make a claim that runs counter to much of literary scholarship. Historically speaking, the collective enterprise we call African-American or black literature is of recent vintage—in fact, it's just a little more than a century old. Further, it has already come to an end. And the latter is a fact we should neither regret nor lament.

African-American literature was the literature of a distinct historical period, namely, the era of constitutionally sanctioned segregation known as Jim Crow. Punctuated by state constitutional amendments that disfranchised black Americans throughout much of the South, legitimated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 with the infamous “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, and stumbling into decline in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, Jim Crow and the fight against it gave rise to—and shaped—African-American literary practice as we have come to know it. Like it or not, African-American literature was a Jim Crow phenomenon, which is to say, speaking from the standpoint of a post-Jim Crow world, African-American literature is history. While one can (and students of American literature certainly should) write about African-American literature as an object of study, one can no longer write African-American literature, any more than one can currently write Elizabethan literature.

More here. (Note: At least one daily post throughout February will be devoted to African American History Month)

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