Constraints on freedom, education, and individual dignity have always been fundamental in determining who is able to write, when, and where. Taking the singular instance of the African American writer to heart, 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 through 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 acclaimed poets, novelists, and scholars.
Assembling this brilliant and diverse group of African American writers at a moment when our reception 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.
William W. Cook is professor emeritus of English and African and African American studies at Dartmouth College. James Tatum is professor emeritus of classics at Dartmouth. They are both the authors of numerous previous volumes.