What Is African American Literature? by Margo N. Crawford

The Blurb On The Back:

After Kenneth W. Warren’s What Was African American Literature?, Margo N. Crawford delivers What Is African American Literature?

The idea of African American literature may be much more than literature written by authors who identify as “Black”.  What Is African American Literature? focuses on feeling as form in order to show that African American literature is an archive of feelings, a tradition of the tension between uncontainable black affect and rigid historical structure.  Margo N. Crawford argues that textual production of affect (such as blush, vibration, shiver, twitch, and wink) reveals that African American literature keeps reimagining a black collective nervous system.

Crawford foregrounds the “idea” of African American literature and uncovers the “black feeling world” co-created by writers and readers.  Rejecting the notion that there are no formal lines separating African American literature and a broader American literary tradition, Crawford contends that the distinguishing feature of African American literature is a “moodscape” that is as stable as electricity.  Presenting a fresh perspective on the affective atmosphere of African American literature, this compelling text frames central questions around the “idea” of African American literature, shows the limits of historicism in explaining the mood of African American literature and addresses textual production in the creation of the African American literary tradition.

Part of the acclaimed Wiley Blackwell Manifestos series, What is African American Literature? is a significant addition to scholarship in the field.  Professors and students of American literature, African American literature, and Black Studies will find this book an invaluable source of fresh perspectives and new insights on America’s black literature tradition. 

You can order WHAT IS AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE? by Margo N. Crawford from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Margo N. Crawford is Professor of English and Director of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  This is an academic text aimed at those studying African American literature and written in an esoteric style that assumes a familiarity with black authors, which I sadly lack.  As such it did go largely over my head but that’s not the author’s fault and I came away with a list of books and authors who I want to read.

October 2021 is Black History Month in the United Kingdom so I thought I would commemorate it by trying to read more Black authors and improve my knowledge of subjects like Black history and Black literature.  I picked up this book because although I have heard of African American writers like Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker I haven’t read a lot of their work and am unfamiliar with the academic theories underpinning the study of African American literature, so I hoped that this book would give me a feel for that to improve my overall understanding.

Unfortunately that is not what this book is and I’m going to stress that it is not in any way, shape or form, the fault of the author or the publisher.  It’s purely on me because I didn’t read the back cover properly.

Crawford has written this book specifically for students and academics who are already immersed in American and African American literature and the central argument of the book (as I understand it) is to do with a discussion within the academic field about whether African American literature is different to American literature and if so, how.  As such, she goes very deep into a textual analysis of the authors she references in the book so if you are not familiar with their work – and I wasn’t – then it is difficult to follow precisely what this means.  Certainly, I have to say that I did not understand what she meant by the “feeling” or “poetic vibration” or “is-ness” of the text (although she does give examples to support her arguments), although by the end of the book I did think that by the end of the book I was getting an understanding of what she means by African American literature as being an overall mood or black feeling world.

That said I did come away from the book with a better understanding of movements within the African American literary community and a list of books and authors who I want to read.  If you have been or currently are a literature student, then I think that this book is definitely worth a look because Crawford clearly knows her subject inside out (as you would expect) and she seems to go very deep into the literary text to make her points. It’s certainly made me think about literature in general in a different way, even if I simply didn’t have the skill set to appreciate all of the thinking here.   

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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