Since its emergence in the second half of the nineteenth century, American environmentalism has predominantly been a white, middle-class pursuit, being preoccupied with notions of wilderness and wildlife preservation. Only fairly recently, with the advent of the environmental justice movement in the 1980s, has American environmentalism broadened its definition of "environment" to include the concerns relevant to a community's way of living. Of particular disproportionate importance are the concerns of poor urban communities of color, which have been exposed to environmental hazards.
This volume--one of the first collections of ecocritical essays devoted exclusively to African American texts--shows that African Americans have contributed to the efforts of the environmental justice movement, not only as political activists, but also as writers. The essays range from studies of nineteenth-century slave narratives to twentieth-century texts by Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Charles Johnson, Toni Cade Bambara, Audre Lorde, and Octavia Butler. Employing a variety of theoretical and methodological premises, they provide insight into the texts' various conceptualizations of "nature," "culture," and "humanness" and their implications for environmental ethics.
Sylvia Mayer teaches at the Department of English Literature at the University of Mnster, Germany.