The link below is to an article that takes a look at how capitalism has changed American literature.
There can be little doubt that the USA has embraced the Free Little Libraries phenomenon. The link below is to an article that takes a look at the Free Little Libraries that are popping up across the country.
Toni Morrison, who has died aged 88, was the most influential and studied American author of her generation. Born as Chloe Wofford in Ohio in 1931, she graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English from Howard University, a historically black college located in Washington DC. She then completed an M.A. at Cornell on the work of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, before beginning an academic teaching career.
She married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958, but after their divorce in 1964 Morrison started working as an editor for Random House in New York. It was here that she began writing fiction, publishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. It was her third novel published in 1977, Song of Solomon, that was her breakthrough work, winning the National Critics’ Book Circle Award.
Her most famous novel, Beloved followed in 1987. It was a fictionalised account of the 19th-century slave Margaret Garner, who killed her own daughter to save her from slavery.
Morrison became a well-known figure within the worlds of American academia, publishing and cultural life. In 1990, she gave the Massey lectures at Harvard dealing with the invisibility of the African American presence in American literature. These influential essays were later published as Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.
The following year Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She also held a Chair in the Humanities at Princeton from 1989 until her retirement in 2006 and continued to publish important novels during the latter part of her career.
In her Massey lectures, Morrison spoke of her ambition
to draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography and use that map to open up as much space for discovery, intellectual adventure, and close exploration as did the original charting of the New World.
Both her creative and her critical work are designed to remap the contours of American literature and culture. She aims to highlight what was omitted in the conventional forms of liberalism that governed institutional life in America during the second half of the 20th century.
Her 1993 novel Jazz, for example, involves a self-conscious revision of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mythological “Jazz Age.” For Fitzgerald himself, this Jazz Age was centred almost exclusively around white culture. By setting her work in Harlem during the same era, Morrison executes in fictional form the remapping project that she outlined in her Harvard lectures.
‘The national amnesia’
Arguing that “the time for undiscriminating racial unity has passed,” Morrison sought, in both her fiction and non-fiction, to expose the “national amnesia” underlying often unconscious forms of racism.
Given such a remarkable career trajectory, it would seem Morrison’s literary reputation at the time of her death could hardly have been higher. Nevertheless, there is a significant gap between Morrison’s status as an Establishment figure and the radical ambiguities of her fiction. The latter, more elusive quality might well sustain her literary reputation more compellingly over time.
In Beloved, Morrison develops a conception of “rememory” (the character Sethe explains in the book this is the act of remembering a memory). Many of her fictions feature ways in which old ghosts haunt contemporary scenes.
The rhetorical reversals that are a common feature of Beloved reflect a condition where past and present, slavery and freedom, are all mixed up together. Indeed, the best of Morrison’s fiction is powerful precisely because it flirts with a pathological quality that avoids one-dimensional, political formulations.
In Tar Baby (1981), the reader is told how the black heroine’s “legs burned with the memory of tar,” despite her degree in art history from the Sorbonne. In Jazz, the heroine finds herself compelled to go back to a department store and “slap the face of a white salesgirl” who had snubbed her, despite recognising this to be self-destructive gesture.
Morrison, who studied classical literature at university, was influenced intellectually by the fatalistic cycles that permeate ancient Greek theatre. Something of this darker mood enters into her own fiction.
This is why Morrison’s novels are more unsettling than was her public persona. Unlike many of her intellectual contemporaries, she retained a traditional faith in aesthetic quality and the literary canon, defending fiction as offering “a more intimate version of history”.
She endorsed Barack Obama as presidential candidate in 2008 by commending his “creative imagination, which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom.”
Yet such polite terms as “creative imagination” find themselves contradicted by the cycles inherent in Morrison’s own imaginative universe. In Sula, for instance, the institution of a “National Suicide Day” epitomizes the kind of in-turned violence typical of her sombre fiction.
Morrison’s art resists classification. This quality of aesthetic elusiveness and ambiguity will make her more disconcerting representations of the psychology of power resonate with future generations of readers.
The link below is to an article reporting on the building of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota.
At the end of May, it happened again. A mass shooter killed 12 people, this time at a municipal center in Virginia Beach. Employees had been forbidden to carry guns at work, and some lamented that this policy had prevented “good guys” from taking out the shooter.
This trope – “the good guy with a gun” – has become commonplace among gun rights activists.
Where did it come from?
On Dec. 21, 2012 – one week after Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced during a press conference that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Ever since then, in response to each mass shooting, pro-gun pundits, politicians and social media users parrot some version of the slogan, followed by calls to arm the teachers, arm the churchgoers or arm the office workers. And whenever an armed citizen takes out a criminal, conservative media outlets pounce on the story.
But “the good guy with the gun” archetype dates to long before LaPierre’s 2012 press conference.
There’s a reason his words resonated so deeply. He had tapped into a uniquely American archetype, one whose origins I trace back to American pulp crime fiction in my book “Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority.”
Other cultures have their detective fiction. But it was specifically in America that the “good guy with a gun” became a heroic figure and a cultural fantasy.
‘When I fire, there ain’t no guessing’
Beginning in the 1920s, a certain type of protagonist started appearing in American crime fiction. He often wore a trench coat and smoked cigarettes. He didn’t talk much. He was honorable, individualistic – and armed.
These characters were dubbed “hard-boiled,” a term that originated in the late 19th century to describe “hard, shrewd, keen men who neither asked nor expected sympathy nor gave any, who could not be imposed upon.” The word didn’t describe someone who was simply tough; it communicated a persona, an attitude, an entire way of being.
“Show me the man,” the protagonist, Terry Mack, announces, “and if he’s drawing on me and is a man what really needs a good killing, why, I’m the boy to do it.”
Terry also lets the reader know that he’s a sure shot: “When I fire, there ain’t no guessing contest as to where the bullet is going.”
From the start, the gun was a crucial accessory. Since the detective only shot at bad guys and because he never missed, there was nothing to fear.
Part of the popularity of this character type had to do with the times. In an era of Prohibition, organized crime, government corruption and rising populism, the public was drawn to the idea of a well-armed, well-meaning maverick – someone who could heroically come to the defense of regular people. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, stories that featured these characters became wildly popular.
Their stories’ plots differed, but their protagonists were mostly the same: tough-talking, straight-shooting private detectives.
In an early Hammett story, the detective shoots a gun out of a man’s hand and then quips he’s a “fair shot – no more, no less.”
In a 1945 article, Raymond Chandler attempted to define this type of protagonist:
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. … He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.”
Selling a fantasy
Gun rights enthusiasts have embraced the idea of the “good guy” as a model to emulate – a character role that just needed real people to step in and play it. The NRA store even sells T-shirts with LaPierre’s slogan, and encourages buyers to “show everyone that you’re the ‘good guy’” by buying the T-shirt.
The problem with this archetype is that it’s just that: an archetype. A fictional fantasy.
In pulp fiction, the detectives never miss. Their timing is precise and their motives are irreproachable. They never accidentally shoot themselves or an innocent bystander. Rarely are they mentally unstable or blinded by rage. When they clash with the police, it’s often because they’re doing the police’s job better than the police can.
Another aspect of the fantasy involves looking the part. The “good guy with a gun” isn’t just any guy – it’s a white one.
In “Three Gun Terry,” the detective apprehends the villain, Manual Sparo, with some tough words: “‘Speak English,’ I says. I’m none too gentle because it won’t do him any good now.”
Could this explain why, in 2018, when a black man with a gun tried to stop a shooting in a mall in Alabama – and the police shot and killed him – the NRA, usually eager to champion good guys with guns, didn’t comment?
A reality check
Most gun enthusiasts don’t measure up to the fictional ideal of the steady, righteous and sure shot.
In fact, research has shown that gun-toting independence unleashes much more chaos and carnage than heroism. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research study revealed that right-to-carry laws increase, rather than decrease, violent crime. Higher rates of gun ownership is correlated with higher homicide rates. Gun possession is correlated with increased road rage.
There have been times when a civilian with a gun successfully intervened in a shooting, but these instances are rare. Those who carry guns often have their own guns used against them. And a civilian with a gun is more likely to be killed than to kill an attacker.
Even in instances where a person is paid to stand guard with a gun, there’s no guarantee that he’ll fulfill this duty.
Hard-boiled novels have sold in the hundreds of millions. The movies and television shows they inspired have reached millions more.
What started as entertainment has turned into a durable American fantasy.
Maintaining it has become a deadly American obsession.
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The link below is to an article that takes a look at 20 books written by 2020 US Presidential Candidates.
The link below is to an online archive of ‘Nickels and Dimes’ novels from the United States (1860 to 1930).
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In Mules and Men (1935), anthropologist, creative writer and Harlem Renaissance upstart Zora Neale Hurston relays the evocative folktale “Why the Sister in Black Works Hardest.” Fatigued after the work of Creation, God casts a massive bundle onto the earth. Intrigued by the mysterious object, a white Southern woman during the antebellum era asks her husband to retrieve it. Reluctant to tote the load himself, the master instructs a slave to fetch it.
Soon wearied of the task, the slave then commands his wife to shoulder the burden. She does so, excited at the prospect of exploring the contents. When she opens the package, however, what leaps out at her and Black women for all posterity is none other than hard work.
African American women writers have tackled the hard work of representing a diverse spectrum of lived and imagined experiences, including and especially their own. This labour occurs against the backdrop of centuries-long struggles with racist oppression and gender-based violence, including — but not limited to — slavery’s culture of endemic rape, forced or interrupted motherhood, infanticide, concubinage, fractured families and egregious physical and mental abuse.
Hard work as groundwork
Renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass recalls in his 1845 slave narrative how witnessing the serial whippings of his Aunt Hester impacted him “with awful force.” He explains, “it was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle.”
These ordeals also emerge in slave narratives by women. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) emphasizes such travails. A target of relentless sexual harassment by her much-older master, Jacobs laments, “When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.”
Once emancipated, African American women still faced staggering impediments when pursuing educational, entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. Political participation meant restrictions on voting rights both as women and as people of colour. Racist caricatures impugned everything from a woman’s intelligence and moral capacity to her skin color, texture of hair and body shape. Stereotypes like the docile Mammy, the Tragic Mulatta, the clownish Topsy, the oversexed Jezebel, the greedy Welfare Queen, the amoral Hoodrat and the Mad Black Woman (still prevalent today) remain testaments to a history of disrespect and erasure.
Hurston’s tale symbolizes the enduring social struggles Black women have faced living in what feminist critic bell hooks has termed white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
In addition to influential autobiographers like Maya Angelou, dramatists like Lorraine Hansberry and poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, fiction writers have consistently demonstrated how imaginative art can simultaneously inform, persuade, entertain, catalyze social change and address individual as well as collective concerns.
Here is a short list of pivotal texts by African American women from the past century. These writers are but a small sample of the artists and intellectuals whose output resisted the force of what contemporary feminist critic Moya Bailey has termed misogynoir, or the corrosive fusion of anti-Blackness and misogyny prevalent in popular culture today. These women have completed the groundwork — and hard work — of envisioning a more just, inclusive society going forward.
Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) by Nella Larsen
These novellas follow mixed-race women whose uneasy status on the colour line (including the lure of passing as white) complicates their lives in dangerous, even fatal ways. Passing is revolutionary for its depiction of homoerotic tension between two upper-middle-class Black women. Quicksand offers insight into the exoticization of African American women abroad and the contest between art and domesticity as viable avenues for a fulfilling life.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston
This story is the lyrical account of thrice-married Janie Crawford who finds a mature vision of love and fulfillment amid incessant gossip and a difficult family history. The all-Black township of Eatonville, Fla., and the rich “muck” of the Everglades contribute to a portrait of community health, daily striving and resolute self-awareness.
The Street (1946) by Ann Petry
This social realist novel follows single mother Lutie Johnson as she attempts to make a life for her young son in a predatory urban space. Weathering sexism, racism, classism, poverty and intense personal frustration, Lutie attempts to resist the brutality of the environment that gives the novel its loaded name.
The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni Morrison
This book is a searing portrait of a young girl’s coming-of-age and eventual undoing in the years following the Great Depression. Tumultuous family dynamics, psychological trauma and incest, the quest for compassion and self-love, and the toxic myth of Black ugliness coalesce in this first novel by the Nobel Laureate and author of neo-slave narrative Beloved (1987).
Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler
Oscillating between the 1970s and the early 19th century, this science fiction odyssey (re)connects a contemporary Black woman writer and her white husband with her ancestors on a Maryland plantation. The novel is buoyed up by the dramatic tension of time travel and the juxtaposition of the pre-civil War Antebellum-era with Civil Rights-era racial attitudes, including those about interracial love and allyship.
The Women of Brewster Place (1982) by Gloria Naylor
Structured like a narrative quilt, these interconnected experiences of seven women span different generations, professions, class backgrounds and understandings of their place in the world. The eroded apartment complex that links them is the backdrop for unbearable pain as well as the promise of transformation and reconciliation.
The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker
A tale of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, this novel constellates their love and longing via letters and imagined conversations across the Atlantic. Unsparing in its critique of domestic violence and toxic masculinity, yet tender in its treatment of various human weaknesses, the novel underscores Black women’s need for self-regard and mutual care. Not only are these acts revolutionary, but they also offer a glimpse of the divine.
The link below is to an article that considers works entering the public domain in the USA after a 20 year delay.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the 2018 *Book Shimmy* Awards, for young adult novels published in the USA in 2018.