Those That Came Before: Black Literary Indebtedness

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Midwest Modern Language Association (MMLA)
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In "The Site of Memory," Toni Morrison claims that as an African American writer her literary heritage is the autobiography, the slave narrative. Quoting Harriet Jacobs, Morrison claims that a central trope of the slave narrative is occlusion, leaving the unspeakable unspoken. However, for Morrison, a writer heavily indebted to her formerly enslaved precursors, "the exercise is very different. [Her] job becomes how to rip that veil drawn over "proceedings too terrible to relate." Morrison pays her literary debt to these authors by revealing that to which they were unable. In what ways do 20th and 21st Century black American authors struggle with or against their 19th Century literary heritage? Or even their early twentieth century heritage? Arnold Rampersad writes in an introduction to The Souls of Black Folk "that it can accurately be said that all of Afro-American literature of a creative nature proceeded from Du Bois's comprehensive statement on the nature of his people in The Souls of Black Folk." Does Rampersad's statement still hold true? How do African American authors struggle with or against black American identity as Du Bois articulated it in Souls? In what ways does this manifest in later 20th and 21st Century African American literature? How do African American writers cope with their indebtedness to those that came before them?

Papers that address these and other questions pertaining to African American literature and literary indebtedness are solicited for the permanent African American section at the 2012 MMLA Convention in Cincinnati. Abstracts should be no longer that 300 words and submitted via email to Brandon Manning ( by May 11, 2012 in order to be considered.