Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s “Youth’s Companion” Stories

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Monographs, United States on 2019-06-03 17:58Z by Steven

Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s “Youth’s Companion” Stories

University of Iowa Press
2003
168 pages
7 drawings, references, index
Cloth ISBN: 9780877458289
eBook ISBN: 9781587294280

Bonnie James Shaker, Assistant Professor of English
Kent State University Geauga, Burton, Ohio

Coloring Locals examines how the late nineteenth-century politics of gender, class, race, and ethnicity influenced Kate Chopin’s writing for the major family periodical of her time.

Chopin’s canonical status as a feminist rebel and reformer conflicts with the fact that one of her most supportive publishers throughout her life was the Youth’s Companion, a juvenile periodical whose thoroughly orthodox “family values” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. Not surprisingly, Chopin’s Youth’s Companion stories differ from her canonical texts in that they embrace and advance ideals of orthodox white femininity and masculinity. Rather than viewing these two representations as being at odds with each other, Bonnie Shaker asserts that Chopin’s endorsement of conventional gender norms is done in the service of a second political agenda beyond her feminism, one that can help the reader appreciate nuances of identity construction previously misunderstood or overlooked in the body of her work.

Shaker articulates this second agenda as “the discursive act of coloring locals,” the narrative construction of racial difference for Louisiana peoples of African American, Native American, and French American ancestry. For Chopin, “coloring locals” meant transforming non-Louisianans’ general understanding of the Creole and Cajun as mixed-race people into “purely” white folks, this designation of whiteness being one that conferred not only social preferment but also political protections and enfranchisement in one of the most racially violent decades of U.S. history. Thus, when Chopin is concerned with coloring her beloved Louisiana Creoles and Cajuns “white,” she strategically deploys conventional femininity for the benefits it affords as a sign of middle-class respectability and belonging.

Making significant contributions both to the scholarship on Kate Chopin and on race and gender construction, this sophisticated study will be of great interest to scholars and students of nineteenth-century ethnic and cultural studies as well as Chopin scholars.

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The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White

Posted in Arts, Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs on 2013-02-24 23:15Z by Steven

The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White

University of Iowa Press
April 2013
144 pages
5 Âľ x 9 ÂĽ
Paper ISBN: 1-60938-160-2; 978-1-60938-160-8

Aisha Sabatini Sloan

In these intertwined essays on art, music, and identity, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, the daughter of African American and Italian American parents, examines the experience of her mixed-race identity. Embracing the far-ranging stimuli of her media-obsessed upbringing, she grasps at news clippings, visual fragments, and lyrics from past and present in order to weave together a world of sense.

Art in all forms guides the author toward understanding concepts like blackness, jazz, mortality, riots, space, time, self, and other without falling prey to the myth that all things must exist within a system of binaries. Recalling her awkward attempts at coolness during her childhood, Sabatini Sloan evokes Thelonious Monk’s stage persona as a metaphor for blackness. Through the conceptual art of Adrian Piper, the author is able to understand what is so quietly menacing about the sharp, clean lines of an art gallery where she works as an assistant. The result is a compelling meditation on identity and representation.

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Invisible Darkness: Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2011-03-10 22:47Z by Steven

Invisible Darkness: Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen

University of Iowa Press
1993
255 pages, 10 photos
Paper 0-87745-437-X, 978-0-87745-437-3

Charles R. Larson, Professor of Literature
American University

Invisible Darkness offers a striking interpretation of the tortured lives of the two major novelists of the Harlem Renaissance: Jean Toomer, author of Cane (1923), and Nella Larsen, author of Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). Charles R. Larson examines the common belief that both writers “disappeared” after the Harlem Renaissance and died in obscurity; he dispels the misconception that they vanished into the white world and lived unproductive and unrewarding lives.

In clear, jargon-free language, Larson demonstrates the opposing views that both writers had about their work vis-Ă -vis the incipient black arts movement; he traces each writer’s troubled childhood and describes the unresolved questions of race that haunted Toomer and Larsen all of their lives. Larson follows Toomer through the wreckage of his personal life as well as the troubled years of his increasingly quirky spiritual quest until his death in a nursing home in 1967. Using previously unpublished letters and documents, Larson establishes for the first time the details of Larsen’s life, illustrating that virtually every published fact about her life is incorrect.

With an innovative chronology that breaks the conventions of the traditional biographical form, Larson narrates what happened to both of these writers during their supposed years of withdrawal. He demonstrates that Nella Larsen never really gave up her fight for creative and personal fulfillment and that Jean Toomer’s connection to the Harlem Renaissance—and the black world—is at best a dubious one. This strong revisionist interpretation of two major writers will have a major impact on African American literary studies.

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Gothic Passages: Racial Ambiguity and the American Gothic

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2010-09-05 20:33Z by Steven

Gothic Passages: Racial Ambiguity and the American Gothic

University of Iowa Press
2003
186 pages
Cloth ISBN: 0-87745-824-3, 978-0-87745-824-1
eBook ISBN: 1-58729-420-6 978-1-58729-420-4

Justin Edwards, Professor of English
Bangor University, Bangor, Wales

This groundbreaking study analyzes the development of American gothic literature alongside nineteenth-century discourses of passing and racial ambiguity.

By bringing together these areas of analysis, Justin Edwards considers the following questions. How are the categories of “race” and the rhetoric of racial difference tied to the language of gothicism? What can these discursive ties tell us about a range of social boundaries—gender, sexuality, class, race, etc.—during the nineteenth century? What can the construction and destabilization of these social boundaries tell us about the development of the U.S. gothic?

The sources used to address these questions are diverse, often literary and historical, fluidly moving between “representation” and “reality.” Works of gothic literature by Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Frances Harper, and Charles Chesnutt, among others, are placed in the contexts of nineteenth-century racial “science” and contemporary discourses about the formation of identity. Edwards then examines how nineteenth-century writers gothicized biracial and passing figures in order to frame them within the rubric of a “demonization of difference.” By charting such depictions in literature and popular science, he focuses on an obsession in antebellum and postbellum America over the threat of collapsing racial identities—threats that resonated strongly with fears of the transgression of the boundaries of sexuality and the social anxiety concerning the instabilities of gender, class, ethnicity, and nationality.

Gothic Passages not only builds upon the work of Americanists who uncover an underlying racial element in U.S. gothic literature but also sheds new light on the pervasiveness of gothic discourse in nineteenth-century representations of passing from both sides of the color line. This fascinating book will be of interest to scholars of American literature, cultural studies, and African American studies.

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