A Literary ApproachWerner Sollors
Werner Sollors’ African American Writing takes a fresh look at what used to be called “Negro literature.” The essays collected here, ranging in topic from Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, and in time from the Enlightenment to the Obama presidency, take a literary approach to black writing and present writers as readers and as intellectuals who were or are open to the world.
From W.E.B. Du Bois commenting on Richard Wagner and Elvis Presley, to Zora Neale Hurston attacking Brown v. Board of Ed. in a segregationist newspaper, to Charles Chesnutt’s effigy darkened for the black heritage postage stamp, Sollors alternates between close readings and broader cultural contextualizations to delineate the various aesthetic modes and intellectual exchanges that shaped a series of striking literary works.
Readers will make often-surprising discoveries in the authors’ writing and in their encounters and dialogues with others. The essays, accompanied by Winold Reiss’s pastels, Carl Van Vechten’s photographs, and other portraits, attempt to honor this important literature’s achievement, heterogeneity, and creativity.
"African American Writing is an important volume that proves, once again, why Werner Sollors is one of our important literary critics. In each of his essays, he provides important historical context and close attention to texts. The pieces on Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Charles W. Chesnutt shed new light on these well-known figures by providing analyses that highlight the depth and dimension of their literary projects. The essays on Frank Webb and Adrienne Kennedy focus much-needed attention on these understudied authors. This model of strong literary scholarship will be indispensable to those who study and teach African American literature."
—Farah Jasmine Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University, Director of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, and author of “Who Set You Flowin’?”: The African-American Migration Narrative
"The strengths of these essays are the hallmark of Werner Sollors’s work: the exhaustive research and synthetic quality of his thinking. Rarely has any one scholar conducted such careful, painstakingly thorough research of African American literature and history. But most important and perhaps best illustrated in the essays on Charles W. Chesnutt, Adrienne Kennedy, Jean Toomer, and W. E. B. Du Bois is how Sollors’s analysis of any work includes and synthesizes formal and thematic features of American and world literature; for Sollors, the literature produced by descendants of African slaves in the United States cannot be understood in isolation from the multiracial and multicultural world in which it has its origins. The quality and quantity of Sollors’s work has elevated and inspired the study of African American literature, not only in the United States but also throughout the world."
—M. Lynn Weiss, Associate Professor of English and American Studies at the College of William and Mary and the author of Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism
"(Sollors) assembles 12 previously published essays that collectively offer an illuminating and fresh introduction to African-American writers. Together, they constitute a cohesive vision of major writers from the 18th through the 20th century. Sollors's aim is not a general history but to show his subjects 'as readers and as intellectuals who were open to the world.' Artful biographies and synopses contribute to the work's general accessibility. At one point, Sollors quotes Jean Toomer on one of Toomer's short stories: 'Most people cannot see this story because of the inhibitory baggage they bring with them.' In reading these writers as creators and peers of their artistic contemporaries, Sollors lightens that inhibitory baggage as he enlightens the reader."
"African American Writing, Werner Sollors's latest book, commands attention for a variety of reasons: as a compilation of previously published essays, it brings to light within the covers of one single book the astounding scope, learning, and depth of Sollors's scholarship in the field at hand.... Taken together, the twelve essays assembled here cover a large, impressive body of African American texts, both well and lesser known.... The love and erudition that Sollors brings to these texts have been outstanding.... (T)he twelve essays collected in African American Writing provide ample proof to the originality and critical ingenuity of their author. They also go to show how Sollors's transatlantic perspective has changed our perception of African American literature as it were."
"(N)ew readers of Sollors’s foundational work will be impressed by the breadth of his engagement with both seminal and less widely read figures in the field and by the insistent and incisive historicizing that characterizes each of the essays, situating each of his subjects within not only a national political context but also a broader internationalist frame."