In this groundbreaking book Charles Scruggs identifies the black urban experience as a driving force behind the twentieth-century Afro-American novel, resulting in a rich fictional tradition that runs from Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods through Toni Morrison's Beloved.
Scruggs begins by discussing the treatment of the Great Migration to the city in Afro-American writing from W. E. B. DuBois and Dunbar through the Harlem writers, establishing both the continuities and breaks between that tradition and that of the writers coming after the Depression. He then considers how four post-Harlem Renaissance novelists—Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison—conceive of the modern city. Scruggs shows how these four writers see the Afro-American's relationship to elite, popular, and mass forms of culture in city life. He also explores the ways in which their writing presents "alternative spaces" that exist alongside of, and often counter to, the visible configurations of the dominant culture.
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