Friday, May 12, 2006

"If He Hollers Let Him Go" and other titles

Professor Toni Irving recommended several works for the series on fiction that can help us understand structural racism: Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go; Ann Petry's The Street; Gayl Jones, Eva's Man; and "most work by Ernest Gaines."

From the publisher of Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go:

This story of a man living every day in fear of his life for simply being black is as powerful today as it was when it was first published in 1947. The novel takes place in the space of four days in the life of Bob Jones, a black man who is constantly plagued by the effects of racism. Living in a society that is drenched in race consciousness has no doubt taken a toll on the way Jones behaves, thinks, and feels, especially when, at the end of his story, he is accused of a brutal crime he did not commit.
Walter Mosley called Himes “one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century ... [a] quirky American genius....” Indeed, one writer points out that "the nearest fictional counterpart to [Mosley's] portrayal of working-class travails compounded by racist pathology is the wartime black LA of Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go--as opposed to the gritty cartoon Harlem Himes imagined for black cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones."

Ann Petry's The Street (1946) was the first novel by an African American to sell more than a million copies. From the publisher:
The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry's first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.
Coretta Scott King called The Street "a powerful, uncompromising work of social criticism. To this day, few works of fiction have so clearly illuminated the devastating impact of racial injustice."

Gayl Jones' work has been praised by John Updike, Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou. Her biography is very unusual and her writing mirrors some of the more dramatic episodes in her life.

Eva's Man, Jones's second novel, opens with these lines: "The police came and found arsenic in the glass, but I was gone by then. The landlady in the hotel found him."

Ernest Gaines is the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and other books. His A Lesson Before Dying won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Click here to read an interview with Gaines by Bill Ferris.

Thanks to Toni Irving for the recommendations.

Professor Irving is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Notre Dame. Her research and teaching interests include African American Literature, Black Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality, and 20th Century American Literature. Her research extends from a reading of black female sexuality as central to understanding the nation's access to and understanding of citizenship. Irving's book project in progress is titled Going Public: Sexuality, Citizenship, and the Black Female Subject and is an interdisciplinary study of race, sexuality and citizenship and maps connections between black female sexuality and the public constitution of entitlement.

--Marshal Zeringue