African American Writers and Classical Tradition

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University of Chicago Press, Jun 7, 2011 - Literary Criticism - 384 pages
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Constraints on freedom, education, and individual dignity have always been fundamental in determining who is able to write, when, and where. Considering the singular experience of the African American writer, William W. Cook and James Tatum here argue that African American literature did not develop apart from canonical Western literary traditions but instead grew out of those literatures, even as it adapted and transformed the cultural traditions and religions of Africa and the African diaspora along the way. Tracing the interaction between African American writers and the literatures of ancient Greece and Rome, from the time of slavery and its aftermath to the civil rights era and on into the present, the authors offer a sustained and lively discussion of the life and work of Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Rita Dove, among other highly acclaimed poets, novelists, and scholars. Assembling this brilliant and diverse group of African American writers at a moment when our understanding of classical literature is ripe for change, the authors paint an unforgettable portrait of our own reception of “classic” writing, especially as it was inflected by American racial politics.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
1 The Leisure Moments of Phillis Wheatley
7
2 Frederick Douglass and The Columbian Orator
49
3 The Making of the Talented Tenth
93
4 Genteel Classicism
125
5 Invisible Odyssey
155
6 The Pindar of Harlem
207
7 It Is Impossible Not to Write Satire
261
8 Rita Dove and the Greeks
311
Notes
377
Bibliography
417
Index
435
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About the author (2011)

William W. Cook is professor emeritus of English and African and African American studies at Dartmouth. James Tatum is professor emeritus of classics at Dartmouth. They are both the authors of numerous previous volumes.

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