Black Refusal, Black Magic: Reading African American Literature Now.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay comments on the collected essays in the ALH special issue on twenty-first-century African American literature. Taken together, these contributors' essays make clear that there is no single idea, issue, or story that defines our current literary era-only a shared accumulation of upheavals, dissonances, and resonances that come together under the rubric (itself contested) of the contemporary. Guided by the suggestive content of the essays in the collection, I offer in this response my sense of the present black literary landscape. My thoughts coalesce around four central ideas that these essays raise either explicitly or implicitly: audience, form, region, and labor. I consider how contemporary African American literature is received, and how and why it should be understood as a 'devastated form'; I address, as well, why the omission of the South in these essays is so troubling, and how we might think about the roles that capitalism, class, and commodity culture play in black literary production. My essay concludes, ultimately, that black refusal and what might be called black magic are crucial heuristics for understanding both what is, and what is possible, in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-789
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Literary History
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • AFRICAN American literature -- History & criticism
  • LITERATURE & society -- United States
  • LITERARY form
  • PRINT culture
  • SPECULATIVE fiction
  • SOUTHERN States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Black Refusal, Black Magic: Reading African American Literature Now.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this