Race and the Literary Encounter

Race and the Literary Encounter

Black Literature from James Weldon Johnson to Percival Everett
Lesley Larkin
Distribution: World
Publication date: 12/14/2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-01787-1
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What effect has the black literary imagination attempted to have on, in Toni Morrison’s words, "a race of readers that understands itself to be ‘universal’ or race-free"? How has black literature challenged the notion that reading is a race-neutral act? Race and the Literary Encounter takes as its focus several modern and contemporary African American narratives that not only narrate scenes of reading but also attempt to intervene in them. The texts interrupt, manage, and manipulate, employing thematic, formal, and performative strategies in order to multiply meanings for multiple readers, teach new ways of reading, and enable the emergence of antiracist reading subjects. Analyzing works by James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Jamaica Kincaid, Percival Everett, Sapphire, and Toni Morrison, Lesley Larkin covers a century of African American literature in search of the concepts and strategies that black writers have developed in order to address and theorize a diverse audience, and outlines the special contributions modern and contemporary African American literature makes to the fields of reader ethics and antiracist literary pedagogy.

Author Bio

Lesley Larkin is Associate Professor of English at Northern Michigan University. Her research on race and reader ethics has appeared in LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, MELUS, and Callaloo.


“An illuminating study that promises to make significant inroads in the field of African American literary criticism and American studies. Larkin poses a series of provocative queries about the 'politics' of writing, reading, and interpreting 20th century literature by African and Caribbean American writers.”
 — Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Scenes of Reading, Scenes of Racialization: Modern and Contemporary Black Literature
1. Unbinding the Double Audience: James Weldon Johnson
2. Speakerly Reading: Zora Neale Hurston
3. Close Reading "You": Ralph Ellison
4. Erasing Precious: Sapphire and Percival Everett
5. Reading and Being Read: Jamaica Kincaid
Epilogue: Toward a Theory and Pedagogy of Responsible Reading: Toni Morrison

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