Faculty Books

The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers Cover

The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers is the most comprehensive anthology of its kind: an extraordinary range of voices offering the expressions of African American women in print before, during, and after the Civil War. Edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this collection comprises work from fifty-two writers arranged into sections of memoir, poetry, and essays on feminism, education, and the legacy of African American women writers. Many of these pieces engage with social movements like abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, and civil rights, but the thematic center is the intellect and personal ambition of African American women. The diverse selection includes well-known writers like Sojourner Truth, Hannah Crafts, and Harriet Jacobs, as well as lesser-known writers like Ella Sheppard, who offers a firsthand account of life in the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. Taken together, these incredible works insist that the writing of African American women writers be read, remembered, and addressed.


Chester B. Himes cover

The definitive biography of the groundbreaking African American author who had an extraordinary legacy on black writers globally.

In his Chester B. Himes (1909–1984), Lawrence P. Jackson depicts the improbable life of the controversial writer whose novels confront sexuality, racism, and social injustice. In absorbing detail, Jackson explores Chester Himes’s middle-class origins, eight years in prison, painful odyssey as a black World War II–era artist, and escape to Europe, where Himes became internationally famous for his Harlem detective series. Praised by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as “one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition,” Himes, author of the bestsellers If He Hollers, Let Him Go and Cotton Comes to Harlem, published twenty literary works over a long career, enhanced by friendships with Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Carl Van Vechtern.

Chester B. Himes relies on exclusive interviews and unrestricted access to Himes’s full archives. Jackson restores the legacy of a fascinating maverick determined to etch disturbing portraits of American urban life that remain vivid and contemporary.


The Hustle book cover

Over the past several years scholars, activists, and analysts have begun to examine the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of us, suggesting that the divide can be traced to the neoliberal turn. “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man.” Perhaps no better statement gets at the heart of this turn. Increasingly we’re being forced to think of ourselves in entrepreneurial terms, forced to take more and more responsibility for developing our “human capital.” Furthermore a range of institutions from churches to schools to entire cities have been remade, restructured to in order to perform like businesses. Finally, even political concepts like freedom, and democracy have been significantly altered. As a result we face higher levels of inequality than any other time over the last century.

In Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, Lester K. Spence writes the first book length effort to chart the effects of this transformation on African American communities, in an attempt to revitalize the black political imagination. Rather than asking black men and women to “hustle harder” Spence criticizes the act of hustling itself as a tactic used to demobilize and disempower the communities most in need of empowerment.


Mapping Region is a collection of essays that study how early American writers assessed the spaces around them. The contributors reconsider the various roles regions played in the formation of American communities, both real and imagined. Hollis Robbins and Janet Neary’s “African American Literature of the Gold Rush” looks at accounts of the California Gold Rush in the black press as well as letters from black immigrants to California and Western narratives centered on African American experiences. The authors offer a reassessment of the American West in the landscape of nineteenth-century African American studies, moving away from the primarily southern notion of African Americans as property toward the more active role of African American seeking property rights in the West. Focusing on the writings of James Williams and William H. Newby, this essay considers Gold Rush California as representing new possibilities for black citizens as well as an important testing ground for African American rights.


We have all been swept up by the momentum of the Occupy movement. We have seen the results of years of organizing in different communities come together in ways that few could have imagined, bolstered by the scores of people who have left the comfort of their daily routine behind and taken to the streets. Yet as a movement so overflowing with new social and political actors, we lack the framework we need to help us all to understand what a social movement is, to understand how change has happened in the past, to understand what this moment means and what this movement makes possible.

We Are Many is a reflection on Occupy from within the heart of the movement itself. Examining key questions: What worked? What didn’t? Why? How? Is it reproducible? The authors and activists in this collection point toward a movement-based framework for future organizing. Heavily illustrated and annotated, We Are Many is a celebration of what worked, and a thoughtful analysis of what didn’t.


Armed with only early boyhood memories, Lawrence P. Jackson begins his quest by setting out from his home in Baltimore for Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to try to find his late grandfather’s old home by the railroad tracks in Blairs. My Father’s Name tells the tale of the ensuing journey, at once a detective story and a moving historical memoir, uncovering the mixture of anguish and fulfillment that accompanies a venture into the ancestral past, specifically one tied to the history of slavery.

After asking around in Pittsylvania County and carefully putting the pieces together, Jackson finds himself in the house of distant relations. In the pages that follow, he becomes increasingly absorbed by the search for his ancestors and increasingly aware of how few generations an African American needs to map back in order to arrive at slavery, “a door of no return.” Ultimately, Jackson’s dogged research in libraries, census records, and courthouse registries enables him to trace his family to his grandfather’s grandfather, a man who was born or sold into slavery but who, when Federal troops abandoned the South in 1877, was able to buy forty acres of land. In this intimate study of a black Virginia family and neighborhood, Jackson vividly reconstructs moments in the lives of his father’s grandfather, Edward Jackson, and great-grandfather, Granville Hundley, and gives life to revealing narratives of Pittsylvania County, recalling both the horror of slavery and the later struggles of postbellum freedom.

My Father’s Name is a family story full of twists and turns—and one of haunting familiarity to many Americans, who may question whether the promises of emancipation have ever truly been fulfilled. It is also a resolute look at the duties that come with reclaiming and honoring Americans who survived slavery and a thoughtful meditation on its painful and enduring history.


Rap’s critique of police brutality in the 1980s. The Hip Hop Political Convention. The rise (and fall) of Kwame Kilpatrick, the “hip-hop mayor” of Detroit. Barack Obama echoing the body language of Jay-Z on the campaign trail.

A growing number of black activists and artists claim that rap and hip-hop are the basis of an influential new urban social movement. Simultaneously, black citizens evince concern with the effect that rap and hip-hop culture exerts on African American communities. According to a recent Pew survey conducted on the opinions of Black Americans, 71 percent of blacks think that rap is a bad influence. To what extent are African American hopes and fears about hip-hop’s potential political power justified? In Stare in the Darkness, Lester K. Spence answers this question using a blend of neoliberal analysis, survey data, experiments, and case studies.

Spence finds that rap does in fact influence black political attitudes. However, rap also reproduces rather than critiques neoliberal ideology. Furthermore, black activists seeking to create an innovative model of hip-hop politics are hamstrung by their reliance on outmoded forms of organizing. By considering the possibilities inherent in the most prolific and prominent activities of hip-hop politics, Stare in the Darkness reveals, in a clear and practical manner, the political consequences of rap culture for black publics.


The Indignant Generation cover

The Indignant Generation is the first narrative history of the neglected but essential period of African American literature between the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era. The years between these two indispensable epochs saw the communal rise of Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, and many other influential black writers. While these individuals have been duly celebrated, little attention has been paid to the political and artistic milieu in which they produced their greatest works. With this commanding study, Lawrence Jackson recalls the lost history of a crucial era.

Looking at the tumultuous decades surrounding World War II, Jackson restores the “indignant” quality to a generation of African American writers shaped by Jim Crow segregation, the Great Depression, the growth of American communism, and an international wave of decolonization. He also reveals how artistic collectives in New York, Chicago, and Washington fostered a sense of destiny and belonging among diverse and disenchanted peoples. As Jackson shows through contemporary documents, the years that brought us Their Eyes Were Watching God, Native Son, and Invisible Man also saw the rise of African American literary criticism–by both black and white critics.

Fully exploring the cadre of key African American writers who triumphed in spite of segregation, The Indignant Generation paints a vivid portrait of American intellectual and artistic life in the mid-twentieth century.


First published in 1892, this stirring novel by writer and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America.

In her groundbreaking Introduction, Hollis Robbins examines Iola Leroy not solely as an example of the “tragic mulatta” genre but more importunely as a sociological novel that grapples with problems of community, society, and the social contract in post–Reconstruction America. African Americans had experienced centuries of enforced bondage and limited freedom of association; what voluntary bonds should they now form? Should they give precedence to ties of social class or profession or to bonds of kin? Are traditional relationships among family members similar to contracts between individuals or contracts between individuals and the government? Shifting forward and backward in time and following characters as they move from South to North and back again, Iola Leroy complicates the standard sociological category of Gemeinschaft in its depiction of emancipated slaves.


Ralph Ellison cover

Author, intellectual, and social critic, Ralph Ellison (1914-94) was a pivotal figure in American literature and history and arguably the father of African American modernism. Universally acclaimed for his first novel, Invisible Man, a masterpiece of modern fiction, Ellison was recognized with a stunning succession of honors, including the 1953 National Book Award. Despite his literary accomplishments and political activism, however, Ellison has received surprisingly sparse treatment from biographers. Lawrence Jackson’s biography of Ellison, the first when it was published in 2002, focuses on the author’s early life.

Powerfully enhanced by rare photographs, this work draws from archives, literary correspondence, and interviews with Ellison’s relatives, friends, and associates. Tracing the writer’s path from poverty in dust bowl Oklahoma to his rise among the literary elite, Jackson explores Ellison’s important relationships with other stars, particularly Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and examines his previously undocumented involvement in the Socialist Left of the 1930s and 1940s, the black radical rights movement of the same period, and the League of American Writers. The result is a fascinating portrait of a fraternal cadre of important black writers and critics―and the singularly complex and intriguing man at its center.


Widely considered the first African-American novelist, William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter, chronicled the fate of the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his black housekeeper. Yet, in his own day, Brown was perhaps more important as a rousing orator, scholar, and cultural critic. He escaped from slavery in 1834 and worked on Lake Erie steamboats in Buffalo, New York, helping slaves escape into Canada and lecturing for the New York Anti-Slavery Society. After moving to Boston in 1847, he began writing his autobiography, The Narrative of William W. Brown. By 1850, the book had appeared in four American and five British editions and rivaled the popularity of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative written two years earlier.

As Hollis Robbins and Paula Garret argue, William Wells Brown deliberately resists the tone of heroic resistance and eloquent outrage set by Frederick Douglass. Brown’s rhetorical strategy involved telling stories of individuals and individual encounters in which the art of simple understatement and guileless self-presentation prevailed over cant, bullying, and hypocrisy. Brown’s often humorous and deceptively artless tone appealed to politically active women who were claiming the moral high ground not only on questions of abolition but also on temperance and women’s rights. Unlike Douglass, whose literary output can be described as a long conversation with the founding fathers and literary lions about freedom, liberty, and what it means to be an American, Brown emphasized—with humor and a cosmopolitan gentility—the concerns of middle class family life: education, parenting, and the damage that slavery was doing to American society.

This collection will introduce readers to Brown’s lesser-known, but no less powerful works, placed in the context of the era’s debates on slavery, gender, morality, and the discursive limits put on anti-slavery advocacy. The collection presents Brown’s anti-slavery works and the contemporary response to them in light of Brown’s own attention to the role of women writers and political advocates in this period. Garrett’s and Robbins’s introduction to these texts emphasizes Brown’s awareness and even use of women’s voices in political discourse as a way of distinguishing himself from other black male voices of the time. The selection of texts also demonstrates Brown’s willingness to use and recycle any texts at hand—including his own—in order to appeal to his immediate audience or readership. While making Brown’s more obviously political work available to a wider audience, the book reclaims Brown as an important black influence in the American 19th century.


Declared worthless and dehumanizing by James Baldwin in 1949, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has lacked literary credibility for 50 years. Now, in a ringing refutation of Baldwin, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins demonstrate the literary transcendence of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s maaterpiece. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published in 1852, galvanized the American public as no other work of fiction has ever done. The editors animate pre-Civil War life with rich insights into the lives of slaves, abolitionists, and the American reading public. Examining the lingering effects of the novel, they provide new insights into emerging race-relation, women’s, gay, and gender issues. With reproductions of rare prints, posters, and photographs, this book is also one of the most thorough anthologies of Uncle Tom images up to the present day.


With this purported new “era of high-profile, mega successful, black women who are changing the face of every major field worldwide” and growing socioeconomic diversity among black women as the backdrop, Embracing Sisterhood seeks to determine where contemporary black women’s ideas of black womanhood and sisterhood merge with social class status to shape certain attachments and detachments among them. Similarities as well as variations in how black women of different social backgrounds perceive and live black womanhood are interpreted for a range of social contexts. This book confirms what many of today’s African-American women and interested observers have known for some time: Conceptions and experience of black womanhood are quite diverse and appear to have grown more diverse over time. However, the potential for a pervasive and polarizing black “step-sisterhood” is considerably undermined by the passion with which these women cling to the promises of cross-class gender/ethnic “community” and of group determination. Embracing Sisterhood draws its analysis from in-depth interviews with 88 contemporary black women aged 18 to 89 covering a variety of issues prompted by a survey questionnaire capturing various dimensions of gender/ethnic identity and consciousness.


In 2001, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discovered an unpublished manuscript, The Bondwoman’s Narrative, By Hannah Crafts, A Fugitive Recently Escaped From North Carolina, which turned out to be the first novel by a female African-American slave ever found, and possibly the first novel written by a black women anywhere. The Bondwoman’s Narrative was published in 2002. In Search of Hannah Crafts, co-edited with Hollis Robbins, brings together 22 authorities on African-American studies to examine such issues as authenticity, and the history and criticism of this unique novel, including Nina Baym, William Andrews, Lawrence Buell, and Karen Sanchez-Eppler. Important contributions include Hollis Robbins, who details and theorizes Crafts’s borrowings from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House; Anne Fabian, who argues that Crafts breaks the rules that governed texts previously written and published by slaves; Jean Fagan Yellin, who examines the influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Crafts; Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who examines the influence of William Wells Brown’s well-known play The Escape, or, A Leap for Freedom, casting light on Crafts’s class and race consciousness; and William Gleason, who argues that The Bondwoman’s Narrative is deeply invested in the politics of architectural form and reveals a sophisticated sense of the relationship between race and architecture.


This anthology is designed to introduce the reader to the contours and content of African American Studies. The text and readings included here not only impart information but seek as their foremost goal to precipitate in the reader an awareness of the complex and changing character of the African American experience—its origins, developments, and future challenges. The book aims to engage readers in the critical analysis of a broad spectrum of subjects, themes, and issues—ancient and medieval Africa, Western European domination and African enslavement, resistance to oppression, African American expressive culture, family and educational policies, economic and political matters, and the importance of ideas. The materials included in this anthology comprise a discussion of some of the fundamental problems and prospects related to the African American experience that deserve attention in a course in African American Studies.