The powerful novelist here turns penetrating critic, giving
us-in lively style-both trenchant literary analysis and fresh
insight on the art of writing.
"When African American writers began to trust the literary
possibilities of their own verbal and musical creations," writes
Gayl Jones, they began to transform the European and European
American models, and to gain greater artistic sovereignty." The
vitality of African American literature derives from its
incorporation of traditional oral forms: folktales, riddles, idiom,
jazz rhythms, spirituals, and blues. Jones traces the development
of this literature as African American writers, celebrating their
oral heritage, developed distinctive literary forms.
The twentieth century saw a new confidence and deliberateness in
African American work: the move from surface use of dialect to
articulation of a genuine black voice; the move from blacks
portrayed for a white audience to characterization relieved of the
need to justify. Innovative writing-such as Charles Waddell
Chesnutt's depiction of black folk culture, Langston Hughes's
poetic use of blues, and Amiri Baraka's recreation of the short
story as a jazz piece-redefined Western literary tradition.
For Jones, literary technique is never far removed from its
social and political implications. She documents how literary form
is inherently and intensely national, and shows how the European
monopoly on acceptable forms for literary art stifled American
writers both black and white. Jones is especially eloquent in
describing the dilemma of the African American writers: to write
from their roots yet retain a universal voice; to merge the power
and fluidity of oral tradition with the structure needed for
written presentation. With this work Gayl Jones has added a new
dimension to African American literary history.