Friday, July 17, 2009

African-American Philosophical Fiction (Suggestions)

Last year, I circulated this notice:

...I am interested in compiling a bibliography primarily focused on African-American short, philosophical fiction stories: short stories in which explored are facts, ideas, issues, myths, questions, and relationships involving or regarding being, existence, knowledge, logic, and, also, aesthetics, ethics, values, and wisdom. I am interested in stories in which characters are conscious or become conscious of the complexity of mind, self, society, and life, and grapple with that complexity or those complexities, whether the forms of the stories in which those characters appear are conventional linear narratives or experimental. How does the individual come to understand life and mind, and then incorporate his or her understanding into his or her actions and relationships with the world, whether those relationships are intellectual, intimate, familial, social, or political? Do you know of such stories, new or old, and would you pass on the titles of the stories and the authors’ names?... I would love it if the information you provided were complete, including publication information and a summary of the story (such as author’s name, story title, magazine/journal/book title, page number, publication issue number, year published, name and location of publisher, and ISBN or ISSN—with the principal theme and/or plot identified); but—if you do not have that detailed publishing information, nor the time and patience to acquire it, that is not necessary: the story title and the author’s name are a good start. (If there are unpublished stories you are aware of, for each please supply me with the author’s name, the story title, and author’s contact information as best you know it.)...

And I received some responses, including these:

Randall Kenan, “Let the Dead Bury their Dead”, in Let the Dead Bury their Dead (San Diego & New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1992), pp. 271-334. ISBN: 0 15 650515 0This is a fabulous story that is based around the oral history of two old African Americans about the history of their town. On each page, beneath their account, Kenan offers lengthy footnotes – an obvious wink to white, dominant discourse, but many of the footnotes are fictional. At various points through the narrative, Kenan also includes diary extracts from the slave holding white family whose runaway slave founded the community that the African Americans are discussing in their oral history. The story raises issues of memories vs facts, modes of discourse etc. When I teach this it is also fascinating to ask students which part of the story they were most drawn too (oral history or footnotes) and about the order in which they read them – oral first then footnotes, or a simultaneous reading. Ultimately, it touches on many, if not all, of the issues that you are interested in – indeed, you may already be fully aware of Kenan’s work.

Best wishes

Sarah Robertson

Dr Sarah Robertson
Senior Lecturer of American Literature
University of the West of England
(August 9, 2008)

You might want to check out John Holman, a wonderful but under-appreciated writer with two books (Luminous Mysteries and Squabble) who directs the creative writing program at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He fits your prescription perfectly. Also look into Sefi Atta at her Web site. She was born in Nigeria, now lives in Meridian, Mississippi.

All best,

Frederick Barthelme
(August 10, 2008)

There are many, many such stories, which I think meet your requirements.
I can, right away, think of 5 to share:

1. Toni Morrison’s short story "Recitatif"
2. Arna W. Bontemps’s “A Summer Tragedy”
3. Alice Walker’s “Advancing Luna and Ida B. Wells”
4. Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Gilded Six Bits”
5. Richard Wright’s “Big Boy Leaves Home”

Good Luck!

All best,
Sandy Alexandre
(August 10, 2008)

I forward your inquiry to Reggie Young of the English Department who specializes in African-American literature. The only material we have in the archives collection which would be relevant are the stories of Ernest J. Gaines. Most of those have been published.

Bruce Turner
Head of Special Collections, Edith Garland Dupré Library,
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
(August 11, 2008)

I don’t have time to give you all the info you request, but look at the first known work of Af. Am. fiction: Douglass' “Heroic Slave.”

Also look at Du Bois' stories, esp. “The Coming of John” in Souls.

All of Ralph Ellison’s short fiction is central to your interests.

Charles Chesnutt short stories are also central.

There’s a lot more, but these are a good start.

John Stauffer
(August 14, 2008)

My suggestions:
“The Coming of John” by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (a stand-alone short story in the book)
“One Man’s Initiation” by Paul Laurence Dunbar in the modern library Sport of the Gods and Other Essential Writing by Paul laurence Dunbar ed Shelley Fisher Fishkin and David Bradley (Random House)

Sorry that other commitments prevent me from spending any more time responding to your query.

SFF/Shelley Fisher Fishkin
(August 17, 2008)

My top two picks would be:

The chapter entitled “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” from Richard Wright's Black Boy and the story “The Coming of John” from Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois.

Dr. Anna Stubblefield
Chair, Department of Philosophy
Rutgers University-Newark
(January 9, 2009)