Designs of Blackness: Studies in the Literature of by A. Robert Lee

By A. Robert Lee

''... brilliantly unique ... brings cultural and post-colonial thought to endure on a variety of authors with nice ability and sensitivity.' Terry Eagleton

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Harriet Tubman, slave escapee turned Underground Railway veteran, Union spy, military strategist, a woman whose ‘word’ was involved in rescuing more than 400 other slaves, has a name which recurs as much in the oral as the written lore of anti-slavery. Sojourner Truth belongs with her in spirit, an ex-slave (she was also known as Isabella), a physically imposing presence, a boundless black feminist. ’, the fierce equalitarian speech she made to the overwhelmingly white ‘Women’s Rights Convention’ in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, together with each of the seven versions of her Narrative, gave live meaning to her selffreeing as African American woman in both fact and language.

In fact, intelligence isn’t required to know the black is a new man – complex, intriguing, and not particularly likeable. I find it very difficult to like American black myself; but there’s nothing primitive about us, as there is about the most sophisticated African. (pp. 285–6) AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 41 This kind of contrariety, hurt and absurdity entwined, does not sit easily in any camp. The other observation concerns Himes’s stance as a writer: No matter what I did, or where I was, or how I lived, I had considered myself a writer ever since I’d published my first story in Esquire when I was still in prison in 1934.

The South graduates from actual geography to a site in imagination, to remembrance, a South which his fiction from Uncle Tom’s Children (1938) to The Long Dream (1958) will confirm he ‘can never really leave’. This double current holds for American Hunger. For all the reality of its windswept shoreline and stockyards, and even its black South Side, Chicago strikes him as citied unreality, miasma. ’ He refers, insistently, to ‘my excessive reading’, to ‘stabs of writing ... full of tension, frantic poverty and death’.

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