Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-25 23:16Z by Steven

Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon

Modern Drama
Volume 59, Number 3, Fall 2016
pages 285-305

Verna A. Foster, Professor of English
Loyola University Chicago

In adapting the nineteenth-century melodrama The Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins both satirizes Boucicault’s racial assumptions and emulates his aesthetic principles to produce a meta-melodrama, a play that at once celebrates and critiques its own form while providing a stinging indictment of racial attitudes in the twenty-first century. This essay draws on both the published script and audience responses to Soho Repertory Theatre’s two stagings of the play in 2014 and 2015 gleaned from reviews, blogs, and interviews. The contemporary context and cross-racial casting of An Octoroon ironize and adapt the meaning of Boucicault’s play, making it appropriate for the twenty-first century. Through his use of italicization, Brechtian quotation, the new contemporary dialogue he writes for the slave characters, and his shocking updated sensation scene, Jacobs-Jenkins induces his audience to question their own and each other’s racial reactions even as they are caught up in the play.

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T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 21:22Z by Steven

T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928

University Press of Florida
2008-06-15
342 pages
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3232-0
Paper ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3548-2

Shawn Leigh Alexander, Associate Professor of African-American Studies
University of Kansas

Born into slavery, T. Thomas Fortune was known as the dean of African American journalism by the time of his death in the early twentieth century. The editorship of three prominent black newspapers–the New York Globe, New York Freeman, and New York Age–provided Fortune with a platform to speak against racism and injustice.

For nearly five decades his was one of the most powerful voices in the press. Contemporaries such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington considered him an equal, if not a superior, in social and political thought. Today’s histories often pass over his writings, in part because they are so voluminous and have rarely been reprinted. Shawn Leigh Alexander’s anthology will go a long way toward rectifying that situation, demonstrating the breadth of Fortune’s contribution to black political thought at a key period in American history.

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The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-25 02:23Z by Steven

The Ambiguous and the Mundane: Racial Performance and Asian Americans

Contemporary Literature
Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2016
pages 292-300

Josephine D. Lee, Professor of English and Asian American
University of Minnesota

Jennifer Ann Ho, Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2015. xi + 215 pp. $90.00 cloth; $31.95 paper.

Ju Yon Kim, The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday. New York: New York University Press, 2015. x + 286 pp. $90.00 cloth; $28.00 paper.

Asian American studies scholars such as Karen Shimakawa (National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage), Leslie Bow (Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature), Tina Chen (Double Agency: Acts of Impersonation in Asian American Literature and Culture), Joshua Chambers-Letson (A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America), and myself have drawn attention to the theatrical nature of Asian American racialization—the assumed incompatibility between Asian bodies and American loyalties that undergirds racial stereotypes such as the perpetual foreigner or the wartime enemy. The Asian American is imagined as a potential traitor or an economic threat whose essential nature is inherently at odds with American identity and whose apparently successful cultural assimilation is inherently untrustworthy. Throughout their long history, Asian Americans have been subject to the material and psychological consequences of this endgame, whether in the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans or in outlandish expectations for the “model minority.”

Two recent books—Ju Yon Kim’s The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday and Jennifer Ann Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture—also envision Asian American racialization as a shifting and dynamic social performance, unpacking what “Asian American” does, rather than just assuming what it is. Both directly challenge fixed notions of racial epistemology as well as provide insightful, original commentary on historical and contemporary Asian American literature and culture.

Grounded in the theories of theatrical phenomenology and Asian American studies, Kim’s Racial Mundane specifically looks at the juxtaposition of Asian American culture (especially Asian American theater) and “everyday” life. Theater is often considered the realm of imaginative pretense as contrasted with the authentic world offstage. But as Kim points out, both theater and life are mainly constituted by repetitive habits and behaviors that define self and action. What Kim calls “the mundane” is the “fusion of the corporeal and the quotidian,” or as she eloquently puts it, “the slice of the everyday carried—and carried out—by the body” (3). For Asian Americans, these ordinary bodily practices are charged with racial significance. Asian exclusion and marginalization was founded on the premise that Asian immigrants and their descendants would never fully assimilate. Kim takes up different instances of this perceived gap between Asian body and American behavior; for instance, she reads the myth of the “model minority” in Justin Lin’s 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow and Lauren Yee’s biting 2014 satire Ching Chong Chinaman as demonstrative of this racial slippage, whereby Asian American achievement is interpreted both as proof of a successful transition into Americanness and as accentuating a racial difference that belies assimilation.

Though Kim’s examples are largely contemporary, she opens with an analysis of a play that premiered in 1912. Now mostly forgotten, Harry Benrimo and George C. Hazelton Jr.’s The Yellow Jacket was praised in touring productions as well as Broadway revivals, drawing attention for its novel adaptation of the stage devices of Chinese opera as well as Chinese settings and characters. Kim juxtaposes the success of this play’s version of Chineseness with the uncertainty and suspicion with which Chinese immigrants were treated. If the “heathen Chinee” (as Bret Harte called the Chinese immigrant in his popular 1870 poem) was so reviled in early twentieth-century America, how do we explain the popularity of the Chinese characters (played by white actors) in The Yellow Jacket? Key to this contradiction was Benrimo and Hazelton’s inclusion of a “Property Man,” a character who manages the stage set and props while doing ordinary things such as eating, smoking, and reading a newspaper. This novel stage device may well have influenced Thornton Wilder’s creation of the Stage Manager for his…

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The canary in the post-racial coal mine

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-21 19:47Z by Steven

The canary in the post-racial coal mine

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
2013
35 pages
DOI: 10.7282/T30Z71WG

Roxanne Huertas

A Capstone Project submitted to the Graduate School-Camden Rutgers-The State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

The American mulatto has been employed by writers over time to provide commentary on American race relations. We can look to antebellum writers like Lydia Maria Child or William Wells Brown as an example of the state of the black-white dynamic prior to or just following the Civil War. Examining Nella Larsen’s Passing can give insight into the status of race relations during the Harlem Renaissance. But as America has evolved into a so-called post-racial society, does the mulatto still serve as a vehicle for commentary on American race relations? Through a brief examination of earlier examples of literature with these biracial characters coupled with an in depth analysis of two contemporary novels, Danzy Senna’s Caucasia and Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, this paper will show several of the ways in which the mulatto does provide a model in which to gauge American race relations, for better or for worse.

Read the entire project here.

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Herriman: Cartoonist who equalled Cervantes

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-09 19:56Z by Steven

Herriman: Cartoonist who equalled Cervantes

The Telegraph
2007-07-07

Sarah Boxer

Sarah Boxer marvels at the world of George Herriman, the creator of the ludicrously imaginative comic strip Krazy Kat

We call him “Cat,” We call him “Crazy” yet is he neither. – George Herriman on the title character of Krazy Kat

There is no comic strip simpler, on the face of it, than Krazy Kat. In its 31-year run (from 1913 to 1944) the plot never changed much. Ignatz Mouse, sadist supreme, aims to bean the beribboned Krazy Kat, soulful innocent, with a brick, and usually succeeds. Krazy Kat takes the brick, even seeks it out, as a missile of love. And Krazy’s secret admirer, the police dog Offissa Bull Pupp, throws the errant mouse in jail. All’s well.

Yet despite the repetition, Krazy Kat is endlessly perplexing, energetic, deep and playful.

In Krazy Kat, George Herriman made everything indeterminate. He set the strip among the rocky outcroppings of Monument Valley, opening up the funnies to vast, abstract spaces. (Yes, he beat John Ford there.) He made the trees, rocks and moons shift shape from frame to frame for no apparent reason. His free-floating page design, with its mad array of wheels, zigzags and frames within frames, kept changing…

…In 1971, however, the Krazy world changed. While researching an article on Herriman for the Dictionary of American Biography, the sociologist Arthur Asa Berger got a copy of Herriman’s birth certificate. Although Herriman died Caucasian, in Los Angeles in 1944, the very same George Herriman, the son of two mulatto parents, was born “colored” in New Orleans in 1880…

Read the entire article here.

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Surrealism, Non-Normative Sexualities, and Racial Identities in Popular Culture: the Case of the Newspaper Comic Strip Krazy Kat

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-09 18:32Z by Steven

Surrealism, Non-Normative Sexualities, and Racial Identities in Popular Culture: the Case of the Newspaper Comic Strip Krazy Kat

Revista Comunicación
Number 11, Volume 11 (2013)
pages 51-66

Jesus Jiménez-Varea, Professor
University of Seville, Seville, Spain

In Krazy Kat, George Herriman painted with humorous strokes the endless variations of a sexual pantomime that challenged the boundaries of gender, race, and even species, in a recurrent pattern of sadomasochism and unrequited feelings: Krazy, a cat of indeterminate sex, is madly in love with the mouse Ignatz, whose greatest pleasure in life is throwing bricks at the feline character; such aggressions do nothing but increase Krazy’s passion for the rodent; at the same time, Krazy has a silent admirer of his/her own in Offfisa Pupp, who puts the elusive Ignatz in prison once and again. Such a minimalist tragicomedy develops against the ever-changing background of a dreamlike desert, which accentuates the surrealism of the strip. Strangely enough, this unorthodox piece of comic work appeared for over three decades in papers of the Hearst chain, with the personal support of this press tycoon. The following text traces connections between Krazy Kat and surrealistic sensibilities, and offers an interpretation of this graphic narrative in terms of sex, psychology and race.

…Either consciously or not, in some sense, in Krazy Kat Herriman codified a discourse about his own kind of “queerness”, as his posthumous outing revealed almost three decades after his death. However, instead of the proverbial closet, it would be more proper to say that the cartoonist was brought out of a cabin, for the social identity he had kept mostly secret throughout his life did not have anything to do with his sexual orientation but with his racial origins. In 1971, Arthur Asa Berger discovered that Herriman had been described as coloured by the New Orleans Board of Health in his birth certificate and his parents had been listed as mulatto in the 1880 census. According to Harvey, Herriman “was probably one of the ‘colored’ Creoles who lived in New Orleans at the end of the nineteenth century –descendants of “free persons of color” who had intermarried with people of French, Spanish, and West Indian stock” (1994: 179). Whatever the precise blend of races that made up his ethnic identity, Herriman chose to pass as white and took great care to conceal any features that may have given his true ancestry away, so much so that he wore a Stetson hat all the time most likely in order to hide his black curled hair. Apparently, Herriman’s “passing” was so successful that he was listed as Caucasian in his death certificate and his own granddaughter did not learn the truth about the racial origins of her family until Berger’s discovery: “That was a family secret […] I was certainly never told about it” (Heer & Tisserand, 2008: x). In this sense, the cartoonist’s attitude hardly qualified for the kind of revolutionary stance Breton seemed to be invoking when he wrote that, “the emancipation of people of colours can only be the work of those people themselves, with all the implications inherent in that” (qtd. in Stansell, 2003: 125126)…

Read the entire article here.

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Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction by Diana Rebekkah Paulin (review) [Ings]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-09 18:04Z by Steven

Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction by Diana Rebekkah Paulin (review) [Ings]

African American Review
Volume 47, Number 1, Spring 2014

Katharine Nicholson Ings, Associate Professor of English
Manchester College, North Manchester, Indiana

Diana Rebekkah Paulin. Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012. 315 pp. $75.00 cloth/ $25.00 paper.

In Diana Rebekkah Paulin’s Imperfect Unions: Staging Miscegenation in U.S. Drama and Fiction, the author explores how the theatrical and literary production of miscegenation from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries both dismantled and reinforced the black-white binary that bolstered individual and national identity during Reconstruction and the subsequent period of nation-building. Paulin analyzes race from a performative perspective—an approach she establishes as unfamiliar to a nineteenth-century American—and so she mines her texts for the complex and what she calls the “often unseen processes” (xii) by which interracial relationships become spectacular, or staged. But she also frames her topic of interracial unions as a methodology of its own: if her sources’ processes are “unseen,” Paulin consciously employs “miscegenated reading practices” (xii) by engaging with diverse fields of study, including American studies and transhemispheric studies alongside theatre and performance studies, comparative race and ethnic literary studies, and literary history.

Part of this book’s appeal comes from how Paulin herself stages the narratives within. Selecting an eclectic variety of texts, Paulin organizes her chapters by pairing and comparing; she often juxtaposes a playwright with a novelist or short-story writer—Dion Boucicault with Louisa May Alcott, Bartley Campbell with William Dean Howells, Thomas Dixon with Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins with the trio Bob Cole, J. Rosamond Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson—to emphasize the intersecting performative aspects of their works. She introduces each chapter by situating the authors and texts within their respective biographical and cultural contexts, paying particular attention to the performance history and reception of each play. This strategy is particularly successful for chapter one, “Under the Covers of Forbidden Desire,” Paulin’s treatments of Dion Boucicault’s play The Octoroon (1859) and Louisa May Alcott’s stories “M. L.” and “My Contraband” (both 1863). She develops her analysis beyond a familiar argument of how black blood in each work functions as either a catalyst for “chaos” (14) or exotic “art” (36) to a consideration of same-sex miscegenation (including audience reception). In Boucicault, for instance, a quadroon slave and an Indian have a friendship that Paulin locates “somewhere on the spectrum between the homosocial and the homoerotic” (20); in Alcott, white women in an authoritative, read “masculine” role express their same-sex desire for former slaves via the men’s “feminized characterizations” (41)…

Read the entire review here.

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CSER W4701 Troubling the Color: Passing, Inter-racial Sex, and Ethnic Ambiguity.

Posted in Course Offerings, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-09-09 17:23Z by Steven

CSER W4701 Troubling the Color: Passing, Inter-racial Sex, and Ethnic Ambiguity.

Barnard College
New York, New York
2016-17 Catalogue

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History
Columbia University, New York, New York

Passing, remarked W.E.B. Du Bois in 1929, “is a petty, silly matter of no real importance which another generation will comprehend with great difficulty.”  Yet passing and related phenomena such as intermarriage continue to raise profound challenges to the U.S.’s racial hierarchy.  How does one differentiate the members of one race from another?  What happens when an individual’s background combines several supposed races?  What do such uncertainties suggest as to the stability of race as a concept?  How might racial passing intersect with other forms of reinvention (women passing as men, queers passing as straight, Jews passing as gentiles)?  Is passing, as Langston Hughes once put it, an ethical response to the injustices of white supremacy: “Most Negroes feel that bigoted white persons deserve to be cheated and fooled since the way they behave towards us makes no moral sense at all”?  Or are passers turning their backs on African-American notions of community and solidarity?  Such dilemmas rendered passing a potent topic not only for turn-of-the-century policy makers but artists and intellectuals as well.  The era’s literature and theater referenced the phenomenon, and celebrated cases of racial passing riveted the public’s attention.  This class will address the complex historical, artistic, and cultural issues that passing has raised in American life.

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All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Census/Demographics, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2016-09-01 01:38Z by Steven

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

Code Switch: Race And Identity, Remixed
National Public Radio
2016-08-25

Leah Donnella


In a country where the share of multiracial children has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years, it’s a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
Jeannie Phan for NPR

It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m at the mall with my mom and my sister Anna, who has just turned 5. I’m 7. Anna and I are cranky from being too hot, then too cold, then too bored. We keep touching things we are not supposed to touch, and by the time Mom drags us to the register, the cashier seems a little on edge.

“They’re mixed, aren’t they?” she says. “I can tell by the hair.”

Mom doesn’t smile, and Mom always smiles. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

Later, in the kitchen, there is a conversation…

‘Multiracial’ or ‘mixed’?

In light of Hall’s paper, “multiracial” was adopted by several advocacy groups springing up around the country, some of which felt the term neutralized the uncomfortable connotations of a competing term in use at that point: “mixed.”

In English, people have been using the word “mixed” to describe racial identity for at least 200 years, like this 1864 British study claiming that “no mixed races can subsist in humanity,” or this 1812 “Monthly Retrospect of Politics” that tallies the number of slaves — “either Africans or of a mixed race” — in a particular neighborhood.

Steven Riley, the curator of a multiracial research website, cites the year 1661 as the first “mixed-race milestone” in North America, when the Maryland colony forbade “racial admixture” between English women and Negro slaves.

But while “mixed” had an established pedigree by the mid-20th century, it wasn’t uncontroversial. To many, “mixed” invited associations like “mixed up,” “mixed company” and “mixed signals,” all of which reinforced existing stereotypes of “mixed” people as confused, untrustworthy or defective. It also had ties to animal breeding — “mixed” dogs and horses were the foil to pure-breeds and thoroughbreds.

Mixed “evokes identity crisis” to some, says Teresa Willams-León, author of The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed Heritage Asian Americans and a professor of Asian American Studies at California State University. “It becomes the antithesis to pure.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2016-09-01 00:57Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
January 2017
295 pages
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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