The years between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of World War I represented a low point in American race relations. In Black American Writing from the Nadir, Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., considers the black writers who worked during that period an examines the ways in which they sought to give perspective and meaning to the black experience in a time of deep-seated racism.
Whereas some scholars have examined in a broad way the black literature produced during these years, and others have made individual studies of such significant figures of the time as Charles W. Chestnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and W. E. B. Du Bois, no one until now has presented a full-scale analysis of post-Reconstruction and turn-of-the-century black writing. Bruce’s study treats minor as well as major authors and encompasses a broad range of creative work.
Bruce shows that black writers confronted the conditions of an increasingly racist society in almost every aspect of their work—from their choice of subject matter, to the way they drew their characters, to the moods they portrayed. At the same time, these writers—most of whom were members of a small but growing black professional class—displayed a concern for middle-class aspirations and values. Bruce maintains that it is important to comprehend the tensions and ambiguities between these two forces in studying the literature of the time.
Bruce’s attention to the body of work produced by minor authors, most of whoom have remained obscure to all but a few literary scholars and historians, adds an important dimension to our understanding of Afro-American history and literature. His discussion of such better-known writers as Chestnutt, Dunbar, Johnson, and Du Bois places them in a fuller literary context, defining more clearly their significance as individuals.
Black American Writing from the Nadir is an insightful, well-focused work that will benefit social and cultural historians as well as students of literature.
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