Shadow Archives

The Lifecycles of African American Literature

Jean-Christophe Cloutier

Columbia University Press

Shadow Archives

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Pub Date: September 2019

ISBN: 9780231193313

408 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $35.00£27.00

Pub Date: September 2019

ISBN: 9780231193306

408 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $105.00£81.00

Pub Date: September 2019

ISBN: 9780231550246

408 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.00

Shadow Archives

The Lifecycles of African American Literature

Jean-Christophe Cloutier

Columbia University Press

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.
In this fascinating book, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, an expert archivist and researcher, presents an original and compelling approach to the history of African American literature through what he terms “archival sensibility.” Grounded in Cloutier’s astute and nuanced discussion of the troubled history of black literary collections, Shadow Archives reads a variety of African American novels as alternative repositories for the black experience. This thought-provoking book provides an important new lens to view the works of Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Ann Petry; Shadow Archives is a welcome addition to literary criticism. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University
Shadow Archives is a page-turner in which Cloutier follows a trail of mistakes, misplaced manuscripts, and missed opportunities that came to define much of twentieth-century African American cultural production. With scholarly ease and writerly grace, he has produced a new and essential story of how our most famous black writers—Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Ralph Ellison—actively negotiated their relationship to the past. For them, archives were never dead, but sites of political necessity, historic urgency, and, as Cloutier compellingly shows, a space through which they could reinvent themselves and American culture writ large. Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination
No novel in hiding is safe from Jean-Christophe Cloutier. He is—hands and laptops down—one of the very best literary detectives and literary historians of his talented generation. In Shadow Archives, he offers a genuinely fresh look at twentieth-century African American writing focused on the rise of black special collections and on the archival entanglements of a who’s who of modern black novelists. It will be one of the best academic books of the year, a memorable contribution to African American studies and a fruitful redirection of the archival turn in American literary scholarship. William J. Maxwell, Washington University in St. Louis
As much a tour de force of archival sleuthing as an indispensable theoretical recalibration, Shadow Archives demonstrates that mid-twentieth-century black literature was indelibly molded by the “archival sensibility” of black writers. Tracking the peculiar fate and promise of African American literary papers in the midst of the boom in special collections libraries, Cloutier’s book is literary history in the guise of a boomerang—an exhilarating reminder of the “belated timeliness” and lurking potential of even the neglected and the obsolete. Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction: “Not Like an Arrow, but a Boomerang,” or The Lifecycles of Twentieth-Century African American Literary Papers
1. Black Special Collections and the Midcentury Rise of the Institutional Collector
2. Claude McKay’s Archival Rebirth: Provenance and Politics in Amiable with Big Teeth
3. “At Once Both Document and Symbol”: Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and the Lafargue Clinic Photographic Archive
4. An Interlude Concerning the Vanishing Manuscripts of Ann Petry
5. “Too Obscure for Learned Classification”: Comic Books, Counterculture, and Archival Invisibility in Invisible Man
Coda. Disappointed Bridges: A Note on the Discovery of Amiable with Big Teeth
Appendix: Artifact Biographies or Vagabond Itineraries of Key Documents Discussed in This Book
Notes
Permissions
Index

About the Author

Jean-Christophe Cloutier is assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He is coeditor of Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth (2017) and editor of the original French writings of Jack Kerouac, La vie est d’hommage (2016).