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Freedom Time

, 280 pages

17 line drawings

October 2014



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Freedom Time

The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing

Winner, Modern Language Association's 2016 William Sanders Scarborough Prize


Standard literary criticism tends to either ignore or downplay the unorthodox tradition of black experimental writing that emerged in the wake of protests against colonization and Jim Crow–era segregation. Histories of African American literature likewise have a hard time accounting for the distinctiveness of experimental writing, which is part of a general shift in emphasis among black writers away from appeals for social recognition or raising consciousness. In Freedom Time, Anthony Reed offers a theoretical reading of "black experimental writing" that presents the term both as a profound literary development and as a concept for analyzing how writing challenges us to rethink the relationships between race and literary techniques.

Through extended analyses of works by African American and Afro-Caribbean writers—including N. H. Pritchard, Suzan-Lori Parks, NourbeSe Philip, Kamau Brathwaite, Claudia Rankine, Douglas Kearney, Harryette Mullen, and Nathaniel Mackey—Reed develops a new sense of the literary politics of formally innovative writing and the connections between literature and politics since the 1960s.

Freedom Time reclaims the power of experimental black voices by arguing that readers and critics must see them as more than a mere reflection of the politics of social protest and identity formation. With an approach informed by literary, cultural, African American, and feminist studies, Reed shows how reworking literary materials and conventions liberates writers to push the limits of representation and expression.

Anthony Reed is an associate professor of English and African American Studies at Yale University.

"Reed provides a strong context in which to examine these highly complex writers and their techniques, adding insight into writers who are undervalued (in the case of Mullen and Philip) and/or lesser known (Pritchard and Kearney)."

"A trailblazer, Freedom Time offers a distinctive take on the political implications of experimental writing by neglected African American writers. Reed has developed a strikingly original and wonderfully useful redefinition of the ‘radical’ politics of black literature as a reimagining of what can be thought less through 'expression' than through the dynamics of nontraditional formal practices. The book participates in the very politics it describes, effectively pushing the boundaries of ‘allowable thought.’ Insightful and elegant, Freedom Time provides astute, compelling, even breathtaking readings of the structural and theoretical implications of black experimental writing. It also does justice to those works’ rootedness in ethnic traditions and engagement with putatively Eurocentric concerns with language, form, and aesthetic transformation. Brilliantly appropriate, this important book has started a conversation that we must have, and it will anchor that conversation for some time."

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