Master Players in a Fixed Game

An Extra-Literary History of Twentieth Century African-American Authors

by Ralph D. Story

Paperback e-Book PDF
Institution: University of Michigan
Degree: Ph.D., English
Year: 2001
Volume: 305 pages
ISBN-10: 1581121229
ISBN-13: 9781581121223


The literary expression of Afro-Americans has been scrutinized and criticized in exhaustive detail, yet historically perceived by many American and English literary scholars as qualitatively and quantitatively underdeveloped. This was the view held by many literary scholars until the late 1960s when Afro-American literary scholars and black students argued forcefully and convincingly in favor of the plays, short stories, poetry and novels written by Afro-Americans. Despite such noteworthy efforts, however, few scholars have investigated the uneven and sporadic appearance of publications, or the absence of publications, by black writers in any comprehensive fashion. Thus, the dissertation examines the various extra-literary problems faced by Afro-American writers which have contributed to either many--or few--of their works emerging in print in any era.

First, the dissertation begins with an examination of Paul Laurence Dunbar's writings other than the dialect poetry which made him famous at the turn of the century. It also examines Dunbar's perceptions about his age, criticisms of his work, and why his journalistic endeavors went for so long unrecognized.

Second, the Harlem Renaissance, considered by many Afro-American literary scholars to be the most glamorous and productive period for Afro-American writers is analyzed indirectly by critiquing the most celebrated literary work of the era, Cane, and its mysterious author, Jean Toomer.

Third, the study delves into the reasons for the collapse of the Harlem Renaissance evidenced by the small number of books by Afro-Americans which made it into print during the first few years of the Great Depression. In addition, it discusses the accomplishments and political difficulties of Richard Wright and those of his generation.

The Black Arts Movement and recent emergence of Afro-American women writers are the phenomena investigated in the latter half of this study.

Finally, this dissertation considers the Afro-American writer as a contemporary "American" writer, but also as one who is consistently treated as an outsider intellectual, forced to rely almost exclusively on the dominant culture's media to get his, or her ideas to the public.