The Lifecycles of African American Literature
in conversation with JESSE MCCARTHY
September 6, 2019
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research welcome JEAN-CHRISTOPHE CLOUTIER—assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania—for a discussion of his new book, Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature. He will be joined in conversation by author JESSE MCCARTHY, Assistant Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard.
About Shadow Archives
Recasting the history of African American literature, Shadow Archives brings to life a slew of newly discovered texts―including Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth―to tell the stories of black special collections and their struggle for institutional recognition. Jean-Christophe Cloutier offers revelatory readings of major African American writers, including McKay, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Ralph Ellison, and provides a nuanced view of how archival methodology, access, and the power dynamics of acquisitions shape literary history.
Shadow Archives argues that the notion of the archive is crucial to our understanding of postwar African American literary history. Cloutier combines his own experiences as a researcher and archivist with a theoretically rich account of the archive to offer a pioneering study of the importance of African American authors’ archival practices and how these shaped their writing.
Given the lack of institutions dedicated to the black experience, the novel became an alternative site of historical preservation, a means to ensure both individual legacy and group survival. Such archivism manifests in the work of these authors through evolving lifecycles where documents undergo repurposing, revision, insertion, falsification, transformation, and fictionalization, sometimes across decades.
An innovative interdisciplinary consideration of literary papers, Shadow Archives proposes new ways for literary scholars to engage with the archive.
Praise for Shadow Archives
"In this fascinating book, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, an expert archivist and researcher, presents an original and compelling approach to the history of African American literature through what he terms 'archival sensibility.' Grounded in Cloutier’s astute and nuanced discussion of the troubled history of black literary collections, Shadow Archives. . . is a welcome addition to literary criticism." —Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"No novel in hiding is safe from Jean-Christophe Cloutier. He is―hands and laptops down―one of the very best literary detectives and literary historians of his talented generation. In Shadow Archives, he offers a genuinely fresh look at twentieth-century African American writing focused on the rise of black special collections and on the archival entanglements of a who’s who of modern black novelists. It will be one of the best academic books of the year." —William J. Maxwell, Washington University in St. Louis
"As much a tour de force of archival sleuthing as an indispensable theoretical recalibration, Shadow Archives demonstrates that mid-twentieth-century black literature was indelibly molded by the “archival sensibility” of black writers. Tracking the peculiar fate and promise of African American literary papers in the midst of the boom in special collections libraries, Cloutier’s book is literary history in the guise of a boomerang―an exhilarating reminder of the “belated timeliness” and lurking potential of even the neglected and the obsolete." —Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
Harvard Book Store's Friday Forum series takes place on Friday afternoons during the academic year as a way to highlight scholarly books in a wide range of fields, with a particular focus on local scholars. Friday Forums take place at 3pm in Harvard Book Store.
The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University supports research on the history and culture of people of African descent the world over and provides a forum for collaboration and the ongoing exchange of ideas. Learn more at hutchinscenter.fas.harvard.edu.
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