African American Literature Beyond Race

An Alternative Reader

444 pages

April, 2006

ISBN: 9780814742884



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Gene Andrew Jarrett is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at Boston University. He is the author of Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature, and the editor of several books, including African American Literature Beyond Race: An Alternative Reader, also published by NYU Press. He also won a Walter Jackson Bate fellowship from Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2010.

All books by Gene Andrew Jarrett

It is widely accepted that the canon of African American literature has racial realism at its core: African American protagonists, social settings, cultural symbols, and racial-political discourse. As a result, writings that are not preoccupied with race have long been invisible—unpublished, out of print, absent from libraries, rarely discussed among scholars, and omitted from anthologies.

However, some of our most celebrated African American authors—from Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright to James Baldwin and Toni Morrison—have resisted this canonical rule, even at the cost of critical dismissal and commercial failure. African American Literature Beyond Race revives this remarkable literary corpus, presenting sixteen short stories, novelettes, and excerpts of novels-from the postbellum nineteenth century to the late twentieth century-that demonstrate this act of literary defiance. Each selection is paired with an original introduction by one of today's leading scholars of African American literature, including Hazel V. Carby, Gerald Early, Mae G. Henderson, George Hutchinson, Carla Peterson, Amritjit Singh, and Werner Sollors.

By casting African Americans in minor roles and marking the protagonists as racially white, neutral, or ambiguous, these works of fiction explore the thematic complexities of human identity, relations, and culture. At the same time, they force us to confront the basic question, “What is African American literature?”

Stories by: James Baldwin, Octavia E. Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Chester B. Himes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Wallace Thurman, Jean Toomer, Frank J. Webb, Richard Wright, and Frank Yerby.

Critical Introductions by: Hazel V. Carby, John Charles, Gerald Early, Hazel Arnett Ervin, Matthew Guterl, Mae G. Henderson, George B. Hutchinson, Gene Jarrett, Carla L. Peterson, Amritjit Singh, Werner Sollors, and Jeffrey Allen Tucker.


  • “A critically balanced reader featuring raceless Black literature. . . . The author pairs each literature selection with a critical research essay written by an impressive representation of many of the leading scholars of African American literature. These essays are succinct, interesting, informative, and necessary introductions to each author's work.”

    Journal of African American Studies

  • “These complex works of ‘literary defiance,’ each incisively analyzed, add up to a genuinely mind-expanding collection.”


  • “As intriguing as it is provocative, this volume requires us to probe the reasons why these texts or authors have been red-lined from the canons of both American literature and African American literature. Bravo to Jarrett and his all-star cast of contributors for helping us re-imagine our literary heritage in fresh and constructive ways!”

    —Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Department of English, Stanford University

  • “This fine volume stands out as an authoritative sampler of canon-defying literature . . . Well-organized, accessible, and free of entangling notes, this reader is a great choice for anyone interested in African American literature.”


  • “This valuable collection demonstrates that black writing need not be a direct transcription of African American experience. It also indicates that the critical conversation around African American literature addresses an ambitious research agenda that includes evaluating what we mean by gender, class, sexuality, and whiteness when we speak of or represent race. . . . A fruitful beginning.”