Tuesday, September 20, 2011

African American Writers & Classical Tradition, Winner of the American Book Award 2011

African American Writers & Classical Tradition is the most exciting work of of literary criticism to emerge in decades. Indeed, it lays the groundwork for an entirely new field of study. Rarely can it be said that the reading of literary criticism is a joyful process, yet with this book, William W. Cook and James Tatum (pictured above, right to left), have produced just that. Written with great humor, at times tremendous passion, the reader is swept into the excitement of surprise and new discovery, following the adventure unearthed in the vast resources of classical Latin and ancient Greek literature employed by African American poets, novelists, and political thinkers. Once familiar, canonized figures, such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Ralph Ellison, are illuminated in fresh, often startling ways. Neglected masters, Melvin B. Tolson, and George S. Schulyer, are revived, given new life, and shown to have vital relevance to today’s times, cutting to the very core of the most contentious and controversial issues in America. Relatively obscure artists, such as Fran Ross, author of Oreo, are given their proper place alongside the aforementioned giants, and the greatness of poet Rita Dove is affirmed in the brilliant concluding chapter. There is a tremendous sense of momentum in the pages of this book, a momentum propelled by the lifelong friendship of its authors, Cook & Tatum. Their shared wisdom, wit, and delight in the task of bringing this complex and subtle story to us, one so uniquely American, is felt throughout the work. African American Writers & Classical Tradition, presents a new, and much needed, image of American literature, indeed, of American history. One that is vivid, compelling, and crackling with the electricity of folklore and mythology rooted to ancient sources, in both Africa and Europe, giving light to the present moment, our times.

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