African American Roots of Modernism by James Smethurst

By James Smethurst

The interval among 1880 and 1918, on the finish of which Jim Crow used to be firmly verified and the nice Migration of African americans used to be good below method, was once no longer the nadir for black tradition, James Smethurst unearths, yet as an alternative a time of profound reaction from African American intellectuals. The African American Roots of Modernism explores how the Jim Crow approach brought on major inventive and highbrow responses from African American writers, deeply marking the beginnings of literary modernism and, eventually, notions of yank modernity.
In deciding on the Jim Crow interval with the arriving of modernity, Smethurst upsets the wide-spread evaluation of the Harlem Renaissance because the first nationally major black arts flow, displaying how artists reacted to Jim Crow with migration narratives, poetry in regards to the black adventure, black functionality of pop culture varieties, and extra. Smethurst introduces a complete forged of characters, together with understudied figures resembling William Stanley Braithwaite and Fenton Johnson, and extra wide-spread authors similar to Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and James Weldon Johnson. by way of contemplating the legacy of writers and artists lively among the top of Reconstruction and the increase of the Harlem Renaissance, Smethurst illuminates their impact at the black and white U.S. modernists who followed.

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We Wear the Mask” is almost certainly Dunbar’s best-known and most anthologized poem today. Formally, it is a fairly straightforward rondeau—an old French lyric that enjoyed a vogue among such English poets as Swinburne, Dobson, and Dowson in the late nineteenth century. This straightforwardness is actually relatively unusual in Dunbar’s “standard” poetry because he loved to play with the meter and rhyme scheme of received European poetic forms in a variety of ways that challenge the still much repeated notion of his “standard” poetry as conservative in any simple manner.

Such scholars as Aldon Nielsen, Michael North, Carla Peterson, and Geoffrey Jacques have noted that many of the “high” modernist INTRODUCTION | 21 writers, such as T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams, have a deep, if ambivalent, relationship to minstrelsy, ragtime, the “coon song,” and forms of popular culture that presented a stylized black body and sounded the black voice. As North and Ann Douglas have pointed out with respect to Eliot (and which might also be extended to Stevens, Williams, and Pound, among others), the flip side of this attraction to black masks and ventriloquisms was a deep anxiety about the stability of one’s racial status and identity, which is to say the status of one’s political, cultural, and even existential citizenship in the Jim Crow United States—an anxiety that could lead to terror and madness, as seen in William Faulkner’s Light in August and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.

S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams, have a deep, if ambivalent, relationship to minstrelsy, ragtime, the “coon song,” and forms of popular culture that presented a stylized black body and sounded the black voice. As North and Ann Douglas have pointed out with respect to Eliot (and which might also be extended to Stevens, Williams, and Pound, among others), the flip side of this attraction to black masks and ventriloquisms was a deep anxiety about the stability of one’s racial status and identity, which is to say the status of one’s political, cultural, and even existential citizenship in the Jim Crow United States—an anxiety that could lead to terror and madness, as seen in William Faulkner’s Light in August and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.

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