Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Pearl A. McHaney

Second Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Renee Schatteman

Abstract

According to African American literary theorist Henry Louis Gates, “the slave wrote not primarily to demonstrate humane letters, but to demonstrate his or her own membership in the human community” (128). Two efforts at this demonstration of community membership exist in the publication of the literary journal, Fire!!, written and published by African American artists and writers in 1926 and in the anthology AIIIEEEEE!, compiled and edited by Asian American writers and published in 1974. These compilations, published not quite fifty years apart, are direct responses and reactions to the efforts of the larger society to influence and/or to silence the voices of African American and Asian American people in the United States. The Harlem Renaissance artists seem to have spoken to the AIIIEEEEE! editors, who appear to have continued the conversation in their work while demonstrating the importance of historic memory, cultural influence, and national identity. As Fire!! and AIIIEEEEE! talk to each other, they symbolize the double voice that accompanies the dual consciousness of people of color in America and signify a collective effort to redefine the expectations that white America has of people of color. For each of them, the years and events leading to their publications shape the content, the immediate reception, and the longstanding impact of the publications themselves. Together, the works represent the power of multiethnic presence in American literature, and now, years later, texts continue to speak across generations and cultures and in voices strident enough to empower artists and writers and to influence the direction of American literature.

Studying literature and art, not in isolation but in relation to other works, even those from other cultures, enhances the significance of collective contribution and appreciation of the literature that expresses national identity and the American place in the global community. To that end, understanding the significance of the cultural and historical contexts that lead to artistic and literary production provides a comprehensive appreciation of Fire!! and AIIIEEEEE! and their creators by revealing connections, tensions, and diversions for analysis, as well as a more complete understanding of the works themselves.

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