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Muñoz, José Esteban  

Iván A. Ramos

The late José Esteban Muñoz’s body of work provides readers and scholars of Latina/o literary scholarship a vast scope that centers the work of performance as the tactic minoritarian subjects engage against a racist and homophobic public sphere. Throughout his writings, Muñoz sought to reveal a trajectory for minoritarian subjects from the realization of difference through disidentification through the search for what he called a “brown commons.” His oeuvre bridges the divides between Latina/o and queer studies, and offers an expansive methodological approach for both fields.

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Asian American Ecocriticism  

Anita Mannur and Casey Kuhajda

Asian American ecocriticism focuses on providing theoretical frameworks for understanding race and ethnicity in environmental contexts. Attention to Asian American literary criticism can fill crucial critical lacunae in the study of the environment in American studies. Since the early 2000s, ecocritical and environmental studies have conceptualized place, the physical and built environment, not only as an object of study but also as a site from which to launch a critique of how ecocritical studies has centered issues such as climate change and environmental degradation by understanding the intersectional contexts of environmental studies. Asian American ecocriticism in this sense can be understood as a rejoinder to the extant body of work in ecocritical studies in that it demands a vigorous engagement with race, class, and ethnicity in understanding what we think of as the environment.

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Incarceration in Contemporary Asian American Literature and Culture  

A.J. Yumi Lee

Asian American immigrant communities have been shaped by encounters with state surveillance, policing, detention, and deportation, and contemporary Asian American literature reflects this history. Many foundational Asian American literary texts narrate experiences of policing and incarceration related to immigration, and contemporary Asian American literary works frequently comment and build on these stories. Such works also recall the creative tactics that immigrants have employed to protect each other and elude the state, including adopting or inventing different names, identities, and familial affiliations. Another body of Asian American literature addresses experiences of encampment linked to war, occupation, and militarism that have both preceded and followed Asian American immigration to the United States. In particular, the internment of Japanese Americans in the western United States and Canada during World War II gave rise to numerous creative works, including fiction, poetry, memoir, art, and film by internees and the generations that followed. Asian American literary texts about post–World War II US wars in Asia, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Global War on Terror, depict transnational wartime carceral spaces such as prisoner-of-war camps and refugee camps as sites that have generated Asian diasporic migrations. Post-9/11 Asian American works have responded to the militarized policing and incarceration of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians, both domestically and globally. Finally, contemporary narratives of Asian American incarceration in the United States frequently address the connections between the policing of immigrants and the larger prison industrial complex, asking readers to situate Asian Americans comparatively in relation to other vulnerable groups, particularly other communities of color who have been targeted for abuse and incarceration by police and the state historically and in the 21st century.

Article

Contemporary Voices in Asian American Lyric Poetry  

Jennifer Chang

Asian American poetry flourished in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2004, the Asian American literary organization Kundiman hosted their inaugural workshop-based retreat at the University of Virginia, connecting poets from the United States and North America across generations. (The retreat continues to be held annually at Fordham University and has included fiction writers, as fellows and faculty, since 2017.) The first year of Kundiman’s retreat coincided with the publication of Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, edited by Victoria Chang, which introduced emerging poets Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Srikanth Reddy, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, to a broader audience of readers and critics and, at the same time, urged a reassessment of the contemporary poetry field. Both events signaled an emergent generation’s desire to find community and acknowledgment for their work. Not only were these goals accomplished, but the collectivization of young Asian American poets and critical attention from universities and other cultural institutions also evinced how powerfully the impact of a previous generation of Asian American poets had been felt. That generation arguably began with the publication of Cathy Song’s Yale Younger Poets Prize–winning book Picture Bride in 1982 and grew to include Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and Agha Shahid Ali, whose work can be found in Norton anthologies of poetry and various other canon-defining projects. The critical and cultural acceptance these poets enjoyed at the end of the 20th century blazed a trail for Asian American poets of the 21st century, who increasingly balance the lyric conventions of emotional expressiveness and imagistic language with audacious political subjectivity. In doing so, Asian American poets of the 21st century have opened up conceptions of lyric, particularly regarding voice, to incorporate questions of identity, immigration and migration, and American cultural experience. Contemporary Asian American poets frequently reimagine the lyric tradition through a distinctly Asian American political imagination.

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Mixed-Race Asian Americans and Contemporary Media and Culture  

LeiLani Nishime

Mixed-race Asian Americans have long been a part of the visual culture of Asian Americans, yet, like the wider culture, in Asian American studies the figure of the mixed-race Asian American is rarely recognized or acknowledged. This absence is notable given the field’s sustained interest in representations of Asian interracial romantic relationships in both print and visual media. The simplest explanation would be that mixed-race Asian Americans are difficult to recognize visually as Asian. This explanation locates the source of under-representation in the bodies of mixed-race Asian Americans and their failure to signal race correctly. Within that causal logic, some bodies push viewers to categorize those bodies incorrectly as monoracial or as confoundingly ambiguous. Since race is a social fiction, however, it does not simply exist in specific bodies waiting to be read. Instead, the ambiguity of mixed-race Asian representations resides in the exchange between the viewer and the viewed. The study of visual representations of mixed-race Asians intervenes in this racial narrative. While the visual apprehension of race may appear to bypass culture, the study of representations of mixed-race Asians makes apparent the ways in which the visual is constantly mediated by cultural codes. Race appears to exist on the surface of the body for the viewer to scan. On the contrary, the features that signal racial difference are socially determined, and people are trained to prioritize those features as they enter into culture. Representations of mixed-race Asians often fall outside common racial coding, slowing the process of assigning racial meaning to fetishized features. These bumps in the road open up a space for scholars to denaturalize visual racialization and to begin to unravel the cultural codes that inform readings of racial categories. Rather than looking for a solution to the problem of mixed-race Asian representations, scholars writing on mixed-race Asian Americans focus on visual representations to trouble racial categories and to question what it means to look—or not look—Asian. By tracking the shifting racialized reading of images of mixed-race figures such as Hollywood star Merle Oberon across time and genre, it becomes apparent how cultural context rather than mixed-race bodies shapes the visual apprehension of racial difference.

Article

Law and American Literature  

Jeffory A. Clymer

Law and American literature is a subfield of the wider interdisciplinary field of law and literature. Law and literature are socially embedded discourses that rely on narrative and figures of speech to describe events, render them meaningful, and persuade audiences. Even as law and literature each has its own unique rhetorical forms (e.g., the statute, the legal opinion, the novel, the poem), as well as specific techniques and protocols for creating, organizing, and disseminating their narrative products, they share a fundamental commitment to ordering and interpreting our understanding of the world around us. Although the law itself is often thought of as an objective arena to which disputes are brought for adjudication and resolution, law does much more than simply arbitrate preexisting disputes. It is inherently a political and rhetorical practice that has coercive power to shape in myriad ways the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives. Law confers and delimits rights and opportunities, privileges some identities and disadvantages others, and defines acceptable and proscribed behaviors. Unsurprisingly, then, the law and important legal issues have been a constant source of interest and inspiration for American literary authors. Although obviously lacking law’s coercive or normative power, literature alternatively provides ways of thinking and imagines modes of being that help to form readers’ understandings of the world and their places in it. Over the 21st century, American writers’ longstanding interest in the law has been particularly resonant for Americanist literary critics, who often combine a theoretically informed historicist interpretive methodology with an interest in social justice. Scholars of “law and American literature” have provided sophisticated analyses of literature and law’s intersection on a litany of subjects. Prominent among these topics has been scholars’ examination of the many ways that legal and literary works have parsed the racial dynamics of the United States, a nation that has repeatedly used the law to construct and organize racial difference. Significant areas of imbrication between law and American literature over the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries include slavery, citizenship, property, and incarceration.

Article

Race and Blackness in Premodern Arabic Literature  

Rachel Schine

The signal works of poetry that prominently feature racialized Blackness in early Arabic literature (c. ad 500–1250) include works composed by authors of Afro-Arab heritage as well as by Arab authors who satirized and panegyrized Black subjects. These poets include the pre-Islamic author ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād and the ʿAbbasid-era figures al-Mutanabbī and Ibn al-Rūmī, and thus reflect the shift, across an extensive timeline, from a local, Bedouin poetics to a self-styled cosmopolitan, courtly aesthetic characterized as muḥdath, or modernist. The works are situated not only within the changing conventions of genre, but also within an arc that traces the emergence of new race concepts and racialized social institutions in the transition from the pre-Islamic era to Islam and from the early conquests to ʿAbbasid imperialization. Critical instances of these works’ intertextual movements demonstrate how racial logic accretes in various Arab-Muslim textual traditions, showing how poetry intersects with popular epic as well as high literary geographical, ethnological, and commentarial corpuses. As verse moves across a myriad of later literary forms, its context-specific representations of racial difference are recontextualized and received in ways that contribute to a broader transregional and transtemporal discourse of racialized Blackness.

Article

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fiction  

Sheri-Marie Harrison

West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms. In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them. The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.

Article

Racialized Sexuality: From Colonial Product to Creative Practice  

Jillian Hernández

Racialized sexuality is a term that describes the linking of racial attributes to sexual comportment. Racialized sexualities have been produced through colonial conquest in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. European discourses framed colonized subjects as racial and thus sexual others—as different kinds of human beings with deviant erotic practices. The colonial and racist underpinnings of religion, law, and science have produced pervasive tropes of, for example, the sexual excess of Native and African peoples and the sexual submissiveness of Asian peoples. These stereotypes have had an enduring impact on the representations of racialized people’s sexual subjectivities in art and media, in addition to academic knowledge production. Representations of the insatiable lust and spitfire of Black and Latina women, the sexual submissiveness of Asian women, the lack of Asian men and the predatory sexualities of Black men, stem from centuries of discursive circulation in fields ranging from biology to anthropology, which in turned shaped how such tropes have been taken up and reproduced in cultural production. With the understanding that racialized sexuality is a colonial product, scholars invested in anti-racism and queer politics have problematized the scientific racisms that have upheld dominant discourses of racialized sexualities by exposing their deficient methodologies, ethical violations, and often eugenicist agendas. Racialized sexualities have been lived by colonized subjects through a wide range of violences via chattel slavery, and in the early 21st century, through eroticized violence such as that inflicted on the Arab detainees of Abu Gharib prison by the United States military following 9/11. While acknowledging how racialized sexuality is intimately wedded to experiences of violation and injury, contemporary artists and scholars of sexuality have also worked to show how the very tropes that dehumanize people of color are also marked by ambivalence. These representations often present the possibilities of both pleasure and pain for racialized subjects and thus are in turns claimed, disavowed, and altered through art and scholarship in order to highlight the complexities of how racialized sexualities are experienced. Queer and trans artists of color are at the forefront of demonstrating the potential of transforming racialized sexualities from a colonial product to a creative practice.

Article

Brown/Brownness/Mestizaje  

Franco A. Laguna Correa

The representation of both individuality and collectivity in Latina/o literatures can be understood in terms of racial representation as well as in relation to colonial and neocolonial Weltanschauungen or worldviews. The colonial past of Spanish/Latin America imposed economic and biopolitical conditions based on a casta system that assigned different levels of humanness and determined the life expectations of human beings depending on a racial structure of signification that placed skin coloration and racial phenotype at the center of the colonial biopolitical order. Within the US context, this structure of racial signification has historically relied on the conceptualization of Brownness as a starting point to access the overarching terms of mestizaje/miscegenation, which through the early stages of the formation of the Latina/o literary canon have been both racial and literary tropes that have distinguished the coming-of-age process of Americanization—without losing their ties to Latinidad—of Mexican Americans/Chicanas/os, Puerto Ricans/Nuyoricans, Dominican Americans, U.S. Central Americans, and Cuban Americans, among other communities with cultural and ethnic links to Spanish/Latin America. Although since the first decades of the 20th century mestizaje became in Spanish/Latin America a synthetic racial category that underscored dark Brownness as the result of the racial intermix between Spanish and Indigenous people, the historical development of the term mestizaje hasn’t had the same connotations among U.S. Latina/o communities. Mestizaje in the United States, instead, has been read mostly in relation to Mexican Americans and Chicana/o collectivities, with a geopolitical focus on Mexican American people from the Borderlands. From approximately 2010 to 2020, the emergence of the term “Latinx” has shed critical light upon historically erased collectivities that in both the United States and Spanish/Latin America have been placed within the racialized boundaries of Blackness. Thus, the biolegitimization of “Afrolatinx” and “Afro-Latin American” communities not only has acquired an identity politics signification but has also entered the literary imagination of new Latina/o literatures. Departing from this critical perspective, the maintenance of the Latina/o literary field requires the development of an organic engagement with the political and cultural signifiers “Latinx” and “Afrolatinx,” as each of these terms brings into the Latina/o literary realm the continuous exploration of racial, gender, and national identity fluidity among Latina/o communities.

Article

Faulkner, William  

Charles Hannon and Ethan King

William Faulkner (1897–1962) is widely considered the most important and influential writer from the US South. Although his novels often depict a provincial region of the Deep South (the fictional Yoknapatawpha County), Faulkner is much more than just a Southern writer. He is at once an American writer and a global one. In addition to documenting the fraught racial histories and consequences of colonialism and slavery, his novels address the economic, cultural, and technological transformations of modernity, elaborating the effects that the rapidly changing modern world had on identity, region, history, race, sex, gender, politics, and temporality. Yet, his professed goal as a writer was simple: to get at the truth of “the human heart in conflict with itself.” His unorthodox style and experimental narrative structure, not to mention his deep investment in representing human consciousness, positioned him as a writer of high literary modernism alongside other international writers such as James Joyce. His novels The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930) attempted to represent individual psychology by experimentally collating different narrative sections through different narrators, each providing aspects of and perspectives on the plot. Although these works did not find success initially, Sanctuary (1931), a novel about violence, sex, and crime, attracted considerable attention not only for its sensational plot, but also for its filmic techniques. After publishing Light in August (1932) and working several stints as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Faulkner published Absalom, Absalom! (1936), which is thought by many to be his masterpiece. Told and retold from competing perspectives, the story of Thomas Sutpen, the brutal would-be founder of a Southern dynasty, weaves a complex historiographic web, calling into question the ways people create and transmit history and meaning. Absalom retains the artistic and philosophical interests of his earlier novels but shifts from private psychology to the social psychology of the South upon confronting the traumas and racial complexities of its own past and present. After World War II, Faulkner’s work became slightly less experimental, as he continued to sketch out the people and history of Yoknapatawpha County. During this time, he wrote, among other works, three novels about the social and economic rise of a poor white family named Snopes against the backdrop of the decline of the region’s aristocratic families (The Hamlet [1940], The Town [1957], and The Mansion [1959]); a novelized collection of short stories that offered a composite history of a plantation and its descendants (Go Down, Moses [1942]); and an antiracist novel (Intruder in the Dust [1948]). Although he was well known in international literary spheres, Faulkner’s national reputation only cemented itself upon the publication in 1946 of an anthology of his writings, The Portable Faulkner, put together by Malcolm Cowley. In 1950, Faulkner was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He continued writing until his death in 1962, having published nineteen novels and numerous short stories that are still revered today.

Article

Revisiting Asian American Poetics  

Juliana Chang

The most discussed and cited works of Asian American writing in literary studies include mainly novels, memoirs, short fiction, essays, and plays. To use Sau-ling Wong’s terms Necessity and Extravagance, the study of prose narrative has become a Necessity in the establishment of an Asian American literary canon, while poetry appears to occupy the status of the Extravagant—not excluded, but not as important or basic as prose. However, considering Asian American studies through the framework of not just poetry as a genre but also the poetic as a mode leads to some fresh understandings of canonical narratives, as well as criticism and theory. The power of poetry and the poetic do lie in their alignment with Extravagance, especially in their play with rules and expectations of language, convention, and form. Poems by Asian American writers point to the underside of play, the ways in which play can threaten minority subjects. At the same time the poems enact their own forms of play, through literary allusion and figurative language, for example. Asian American poetry and the Asian American poetic harness the energies of recreation and enjoyment to build and repurpose literary and discursive forms that articulate racial, ethnic, and gendered perils and promises.

Article

Marxism, Economic Theory, and Asian American Literary Studies  

Mark Chiang

As migrants who were drawn to North America to serve as cheap labor, questions of money, economy, and class have been central to Asian American experiences from the mid-19th century, and Marx’s critique of capitalism has circulated almost as long among Asian Americans and anticolonial, nationalist movements in Asia. However, the long history in the communist movement of the subordination of racial and gender inequality to a narrowly defined class struggle alienated many in US racialized communities. Subsequent interventions in Marxist theory leading to non-economically determinist accounts of social transformation have resulted in a post-Marxist Asian American literary and cultural studies. This is a theory, though, that is largely devoid of specifically economic inquiry, and this has led to the marginalization of questions of class, labor, and whiteness that might complicate questions about resistance to domination and capitalist hegemony. These elisions are only exacerbated in the turn to global and transnational frames of analysis, since the complexities of local racial dynamics are often lost in more abstract narratives and conceptual paradigms. The history of Japanese internment provides a case study that exemplifies some of the difficulties of evaluating the multiple forces motivating racial discrimination.

Article

The Pasts and Futures of Latina/o Indigeneities  

Simón Ventura Trujillo

The question of indigeneity in the study of Latina/o literature and culture points toward conflictive histories of colonization and invigorates a set of global directions for the future of Latina/o studies. The pairing of the two terms—Latina/o and Indigeneity—appears initially counterintuitive. Conventionally understood as an ancestral relation of Latina/o communities that has been vanished or lost over the duration of the European colonization of the Americas, Indigeneity opens a set of insuperable problematics that continue to pattern and shape multiple and incommensurate iterations of Latina/o politics and culture. While “Latina/o” in some instances denotes ancestral relation with Native tribes in the Americas, for many the term has also come to signify decidedly non-indigenous mestiza/o, settler, or migrant identities, imaginaries, and belongings. The literary, cultural, and intellectual production of Latina/o Indigeneity offers a unique window into the ways in which Native politics continue to compete with, accommodate, and challenge multiple regimes of colonial occupation and periods of modern state formation. Indigeneity illuminates places of Latina/o literary and cultural production through which to engage the historic ascendance of a number of fundaments of modern life across the globe, including capitalism, nation-state sovereignty, and the transnational social structures of race, sex, citizenship, and gender.

Article

Race and Renaissance Literature  

Dennis Austin Britton

There is no single understanding of race to which everyone subscribes; it is a protean concept, accommodating various notions of human difference at the historical moments in which they emerge. Literary texts therefore do not represent a singular racial epistemology shared among Renaissance authors, readers, and audiences; rather, they demonstrate conflicting views about race, how it is determined, and what it tells us about individuals and groups of people. Scholars of Renaissance literature have explored what concepts of race do in specific cultural contexts, and the various ways racial differences were represented and understood before the advent of racial science in the late 17th century. Renaissance usages of the words race, raza, razza, and their linguistic equivalents denote, in their most benign sense, genealogy and lineage. Usages of these terms, nevertheless, locate individuals within genealogical and biological networks and insist that such networks are important to social organization. Race works as a tool for social organization that justifies varied types of domination, and in the Renaissance it drew from and informed established discourses of power—primarily religion, gender, and class. The concept bares vestiges of the word’s original definitions, asserting that certain aspects of identity are inheritable and inalterable, and then uses those aspects of identity to naturalize social hierarchies—White over Black, Christian over non-Christian, European over non-European. Race thus is a concept that intersects with cultural, somatic, sexual, and religious difference, and the Renaissance may be understood as a moment when race competes for dominance as a system of classification, justifying the rights of individuals and groups to rule over, disenfranchise, violate, and enslave others.

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Human Rights and Asian American Literature and Culture  

Crystal Parikh

Asian American literature and art have had an illuminating effect on the significance of human rights in the United States and in national culture. Americans are often assumed to enjoy exceptional liberties and rights, which they seek in turn to deliver to other people, in other parts of the world. However, Asian American cultural critique provides an incisive perspective on the limits of citizenship and national belonging as the basis for the granting of fundamental human freedoms, rights, and protections to all persons. The legal exclusion of Asians from immigration and naturalization, as well as from other forms of social and economic security such as property ownership, has long been justified through the construction of Asian racial difference. Reforms in immigration law after World War II, which did eventually transform Asian American life in the United States, took place in the context of a “global Cold War,” and during the same period that saw the institution of an international human rights regime. “Integration” proved as essential a mandate in US domestic and foreign policy as did “containment” in this global conflict. As a result, not only has the Asian American population grown significantly and become more heterogeneous since the late 20th century, the nation has seen the flourishing of Asian American literary and cultural production. Asian American writers and artists have been especially keen to investigate the political, legal, and ideological tensions and contradictions that pervade the postsocialist world and the war on terror. Their works explore the political precarity faced by those caught between the contradictions of neoliberal multiculturalism, the logics and technologies of state security, and the legal tethering of human rights to citizenship.

Article

Modern Sudanese Literature  

Afis Ayinde Oladosu

Modern Sudanese literature presents an extremely interesting landscape that mirrors the problems that the category “Sudan” represents for scholars across disciplinary barriers and specializations. To account for its extremely slippery trajectories and, through that, show how vital its contributions have been not only to Sudanese but also to African literature, questions relating to its existence or otherwise have to be explored: To what extent is it true that literary writing in Sudan should be referred to as Sudanese Arabic literature (al-Adab al-ʿArabī al-Sūdānī), not Arabic literature in Sudan (al-Adab al-ʿArabī fī al-Sūdān)? What cultural artifacts are there in Sudanese history that can be cited in support of the latter? To provide answers, these arguments can be situated against data on the medieval, Turkish, Mahdist, and Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese histories; perspectives on the cultural affinity between Egypt and Sudan as exemplified by the Nile Valley (Wādī al-Nīl) can be explored; and these can be shown to have accentuated the birth and development of modern Sudanese literature. Further, its trajectories—poetry and prose, including the traditionalist, the romanticist, the realist, and the postcolonialist—can be explored. Some Sudanese literary-critical writers, including Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr (who wrote the first Sudanese short fiction in 1930), Malikat al-Dār Muḥammad, al-Tījānī Yūsuf Bashīr, ʿArafah Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh, Ṣalāh Aḥmad Ibrāhīm, and Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, contributed to the field. Others include al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ (Tayeb Salih), whose novel Mawsim al-Hijrah ilá al-Shamāl (published in 1966 and translated into English as Season of Migration to the North in 1969) remains unrivaled in contemporary Sudanese literary history; ʿAbdullāh Maḥjūb; Sayyid al-Fīl; Ibrāhīm Khālid ʿUways; Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī; Istilā Qaytānū (Stella Gaytano); and Safia Elhillo. The works of these writers have continued to give modern Sudanese literature the global attention that it deserves. Plotting the geography of its large corpus can therefore be likened to enumerating pebbles in the desert. But there is a thread that runs through the works. From Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr to Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, whose sharp vision and creative spirit preceded al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ, and from Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī to Safia Elhillo, modern Sudanese literature is consistent in its attention to the inner schisms in pre- and post-independence Sudanese society. The corpus thus represents the slippages and the shifting identities of postcolonial Sudanese modernities. In modern Sudanese literature, thoughts and reflections on race, gender, and nation by Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Kadiatu Kanneh, and Muhsin al-Musawi find ample representation.

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An Asian American Epistemology of Reading: Aiiieeeee! and Ekphrasis  

Elda E. Tsou

The contested category of Asian American literature presents a rich opportunity to explore questions of epistemology. At the start of the 21st century, a formal turn in literary study further illuminates shifts in structures of knowledge and ways of knowing. Asian American literature emerged in the 1970s as a critical response to a history of exclusion and misrepresentation. As the field established itself, literary knowledge was defined quite narrowly: it is produced by Asian Americans and the subject of knowledge is Asian America itself. The reading practices that arise from this central paradigm have been called “instrumental” or “sociological,” insofar as they conceive of literary language, with varying degrees of formal interest, as an instrument or expression of Asian America. From the 2000s onward, scholarship on Asian American form and poetics has grown steadily, and what distinguishes this particular movement is its privileging of form as its primary object of investigation. Correspondingly the subject of knowledge also shifts from Asian America as the default referent to Asian American literature and the literary tradition. Critics note that one consequence of making form the prime objective is a potential tendency to drift away from the ambit of Asian America altogether. Those literary texts featuring conspicuous formal experimentation have garnered a lot of attention; less has been paid to the early texts, like the anthology Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974), where formal concerns are not as explicit. Yet upon closer examination of Aiiieeeee! one discovers another type of figurative activity that can help redefine Asian American literary knowledge, offering us new ways of reading and looking at race.

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The Vernacular in American Literature  

J. Peter Moore

At its most basic level the term “vernacular” denotes the nonliterary or common language of a given region. While the idea of a literature of the vernacular suggests a contradiction, this contradiction is useful in considering the study of American literature, if for no other reason than the notion of an American literature, up until the 20th century, also seemed like a contradiction. There is ample basis then for arguing not for the existence of a vernacular tradition in American writing, but that American writing itself is, if not a collection of vernacular traditions, a body of writing defined in relation to vernacularity. While the term provisionally acknowledges a range of meanings from the lowly and indigenous to the amateur and popular, all of these meanings are discursive and thus contingent upon context. The act of applying the term to a text tells us as much about the classificatory values of a moment as it does about the text itself. Abstracted then, the category of the vernacular serves two primary functions. It introduces difference, and it suggests hierarchy. This dual framework has historically allowed for the identification of neglected forms, which stand in contradiction to reigning models. The vernacular provides a means of celebrating marginalized modes of expression as well as the identity formations they index, while at the same time running the risk of pandering to stereotypes. Literary scholars of the vernacular tend to focus on questions of diction, and yet the category is not strictly linguistic; it includes a range of intuitive, improvisatory, and contextual practices. This leaves the perennial question, what is the literary vernacular—a style of language, a philosophy of form, a function of technological capture and dissemination, or a model of reception? In pursuing this question, readers are primed to see the ways in which the category opens onto several critical issues, from the representation of cultural difference to the identification of transnational bonds and contingent universals.

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Cuban American Literatures  

Ricardo L. Ortiz

Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.