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 proven and the good Migration of African americans used to be good below manner, used to be now not the nadir for black tradition, James Smethurst finds, yet in its place a time of profound reaction from African American intellectuals. The African American Roots of Modernism explores how the Jim Crow method brought on major creative and highbrow responses from African American writers, deeply marking the beginnings of literary modernism and, finally, notions of yank modernity.
In making a choice on the Jim Crow interval with the arrival of modernity, Smethurst upsets the prevalent overview of the Harlem Renaissance because the first nationally major black arts stream, exhibiting how artists reacted to Jim Crow with migration narratives, poetry in regards to the black event, black functionality of pop culture types, and extra. Smethurst introduces a complete forged of characters, together with understudied figures similar to William Stanley Braithwaite and Fenton Johnson, and extra commonplace authors resembling Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and James Weldon Johnson. by way of contemplating the legacy of writers and artists energetic among the top of Reconstruction and the increase of the Harlem Renaissance, Smethurst illuminates their impression at the black and white U.S. modernists who followed.

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In the course of writing my first book, The New Red Negro, I became convinced that he was the towering figure of black poetry who cast a huge literary shadow on all African American poets who followed him— and white, Asian American, and Latino poets, for that matter. My feeling is that Dunbar and his work have been generally very poorly served by scholarship—at least until relatively recently with the appearance of new work on Dunbar, and new editions of Dunbar’s writings, by such scholars as Marcellus Blount, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Geoffrey Jacques, Jennifer James, Gene Jarrett, and Gavin Jones.

Washington and the Opportunities and Responsibilities of Jim Crow Even Du Bois’s sometime antagonist Booker T. Washington put forward a dualist argument in his work that had enormous impact on Du Bois’s own model of dualism, both negatively and positively. In fact, one could argue that it is precisely Washington’s unreconciled and irreconcilable dualist vision found beneath the surface optimism of Up from Slavery that Du Bois is writing against in The Souls of Black Folk. That is to say that for Du Bois, dualism was a political, social, and even psychological condition that black folk should openly acknowledge, struggle against, and transcend, while for Washington, it was a sort of strategy as well as a condition.

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. Geoffrey Jacques has provocatively argued that Dunbar’s poem is a “rewriting and recasting” of Thomas Wyatt’s rondeau, “What ’vaileth trouth? ” However, as Jacques points out, Dunbar “modernizes” Wyatt’s work in a manner that is akin to symbolist poetry, and the melancholy symbolist-influenced poetry of Dunbar’s English contemporary Ernest Dowson, in a sort of linguistic tour de force that reminds the reader that Dunbar’s literary competency stretches, at least, from Petrarch (and the earliest English adaptations of the Petrarchan lyric) through to Swinburne, Symons, Dowson, a wide range of local color and dialect poetry, the “coon song,” and the popular black theater of his cultural present.

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