The Lifecycles of African American Literature
Recasting the history of African American literature, Shadow Archives brings to life a slew of newly discovered texts—including Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth—to tell the stories of black special collections and their struggle for institutional recognition. Jean-Christophe Cloutier offers revelatory readings of major African American writers, including McKay, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Ralph Ellison, and provides a nuanced view of how archival methodology, access, and the power dynamics of acquisitions shape literary history.
Shadow Archives argues that the notion of the archive is crucial to our understanding of postwar African American literary history. Cloutier combines his own experiences as a researcher and archivist with a theoretically rich account of the archive to offer a pioneering study of the importance of African American authors’ archival practices and how these shaped their writing. Given the lack of institutions dedicated to the black experience, the novel became an alternative site of historical preservation, a means to ensure both individual legacy and group survival. Such archivism manifests in the work of these authors through evolving lifecycles where documents undergo repurposing, revision, insertion, falsification, transformation, and fictionalization, sometimes across decades. An innovative interdisciplinary consideration of literary papers, Shadow Archives proposes new ways for literary scholars to engage with the archive.