A Salon for the Masses: Black Reading Circles during the Chicago Renaissance
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
On November 18, Jacqueline Goldsby gave the 14th annual Kaplan Memorial Lecture on “A Salon for the Masses: Black Reading Circles during the Chicago Renaissance.” Goldsby is professor of English and African American Studies at Yale University and was recently named acting chair of the department of African American studies. She is the author of A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (2006), and with it won the MLA’s William S. Scarborough Prize. Her book also earned a spot as a finalist for the Lora Romero First Book Prize of the American Studies Association.
A Spectacular Secret quickly became a mainstay of courses in our American Studies Concentration, partly because of the importance of the question suggested by the title—how could the enormity of 5,000 murders over 86 years and in at least 26 states occupy such a small space in our cultural memory, and what does that say about American modernity? But Goldsby’s method also is generative. Not only does she succeed in revealing this suppressed history as central to American culture, but also she revives the use of literature and narrative as sources of both history and critique. As Goldsby asks, “how do stories archive a community’s understanding of its experience with terror?” A Spectacular Secret answers these questions with rigorous and cogent readings of texts.
In addition to A Spectacular Secret, she has James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an ExColored Man (Norton) out this fall. Her forthcoming book, The Birth of the Cool: African American Literary Culture of the 1940s and 1950s, focuses on such authors as Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin. In it she investigates the conditions for black literary production that gave rise to these exceptional and prominent writers.
The Kaplan Memorial Lecture was established by the English Department to present major figures in the field of American Studies and sponsor talks on the kind of intellectual topics Kaplan pursued— boundary-crossing enterprises like Jewish, multi-ethnic, feminist, and African American studies. Kaplan’s legacy extends especially to black studies and black history, and studies of the relatedness in American culture of black and white. Goldsby’s writing on lynching exemplifies such attention to the social and cultural meetings and “chiaroscuro” (one of Kaplan’s favorite terms) of black and white in America. Her research in African American literary culture during the immediate postwar period promises to add significantly to our understanding of the shadings and swirls of color and culture in a way that Kaplan would surely have endorsed.
Photograph by David Christophre