He speaks in your voice: American.

He speaks in your voice: American.

arts & sciences
Boston College
Fall 2009

Tricia Brick

Gene Andrew Jarrett began his 2006 book Deans and Truants with a deceptively simple question: What is African American literature? The term, after all, refers not merely to the subject matter of the works it describes but to literature that both represents the African American experience and is written by authors who are themselves black. But what, then, of black authors who have written works without black characters? Or of those who are of mixed race? “You can’t take this question for granted, because it’s at the heart of so many questions of human identity and, in particular, race,” says Jarrett, an associate professor of English.

The editor of such books as African American Literature Beyond Race: An Alternative Reader and The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892–1938 (with Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), Jarrett has spent his career studying racial representation in American literature—in particular, how African Americans have been understood both as characters in and as authors of literary works over the last two centuries. His Deans and Truants looks at black authors throughout American history who have used literature to challenge beliefs about race that were accepted as truths in their day.

And in his forthcoming book Representing the Race: The Politics of African American Literature from Jefferson to Obama, Jarrett examines the political implications of African American literature—from the role that Phillis Wheatley’s poetry played in Thomas Jefferson’s disparagement of African American political unity to the role that Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father has had in shaping the bipartisan, pragmatic political culture of his presidency…

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