Gene Jarrett became the third Connelly Lecturer in Fall 2009.
The following information was current at the time of Jarrett's visit to Grinnell.Currently Associate Professor of English and Acting Director of African American Studies at Boston University, Gene Andrew Jarrett earned his A.B. in English from Princeton University and his A.M. and Ph.D. in English from Brown University. He has written and edited several books on the relationship between racial politics and cultural representation. He is the author of Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), and the editor of African American Literature beyond Race: An Alternative Reader (New York University Press, 2006) and Claude McKay's 1937 autobiography A Long Way from Home (The Multi-Ethnic Literature of the Americas Series of Rutgers University Press, 2007). He is also the co-editor of several books: they include, with Henry Louis Gates Jr., The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938 (Princeton University Press, 2007); with Thomas Lewis Morgan, The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Du nbar (Ohio University Press, 2005; paperback 2009); and with Herbert Woodward Martin and Ronald Primeau, The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ohio University Press, 2009). He has published essays and book reviews in PMLA, American Literary History, African American Review, Nineteenth-Century Literature, NOVEL, American Literary Realism, The Blackwell Concise Companion to American Fiction, and The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass, among other academic journals and scholarly books. Jarrett has just finished writing a book, tentatively entitled Representing the Race: The Politics of African American Literature from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama. The book explores the following questions: What is the political value of African American literature? How does one measure the historical role this literature has played in helping African Americans secure or improve their representation in the realms of government, public policy, and law? How does one measure the historical contribution of this literature's own representations or portrayals of "race" to strategies of African American self-empowerment? Representing the Race lays out the texts and contexts of African American literature-or, more generally, African American intellectual culture-to address these questions. The book aims to overcome the methodological and historiographical challenges of uniting the fields of literary studies and political studies, on the one hand, while describing the political value of African American literature across two centuries, on the other. Throughout, Jarrett argues that the abilities of African American literature to transform society on multiple political levels have not been treated as carefully and critically as the topic deserves. Jarrett's Connelly Lectures are excerpts from the first and final chapters of Representing the Race: During his visit to Grinnell, he delivered the following talks.
Proofs of Genius: Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, and the Politics of Early African American Literature
In this talk, I explore the question: What was the political value of literature written by Africans and their descendants in the New World? I argue that, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the white and black intellectuals who debated this question politicized African American literature, but not merely along the presumable lines of white racism, on the one hand, and black radicalism, on the other. Rather, the intellectuals meditated in complex ways on the roles literacy and intelligence played in the political representation of African Americans. By looking at the text and context of Thomas Jefferson's 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia, I show that this Founding Father's dismissal of the literary ability of blacks to demonstrate "proofs of genius" implicitly argued that reason and imagination were central to the early American polity. David Walker's 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World recognized Jefferson's logic when other historians and writers of early America did n ot. Walker refuted better than any other black writer of his generation the cultural and political implications, as opposed to the premise, of Jefferson's condemnation of African American writers.
Inside History: Barack Obama and the Politics of African American Literary History
In this talk, I explore the question: What is the political value of African American literature in the new millennium? I begin with Barack Obama's 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to examine how he grappled with the ongoing force of black nationalism while addressing and embodying the simultaneous philosophical shifts in race, literature, politics, and nation. Analogous to Ralph Ellison's political revision of African American history, Obama has revised the political mythology of Malcolm X, for example, to tell more complex, nuanced, and universal stories of human change. At the same time, Obama has developed a new brand of American politics that encourages interracial reconciliation, even as it realistically tempers the phenomenal belief that we are in a "post-racial" world. As only the third African American to serve in the United States Senate since Reconstruction in the late nineteenth century, and as the first such person to become President of the United States, Obama is the most politically suc cessful and socially significant writer to "represent the race" in the realms of both formal and informal, or governmental and cultural, politics. He has built on the accomplishments of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the second half of the twentieth century, yet he has also overcome some of their myths of race and politics that exist, in the words of his memoir, "outside history, without a script or plot that might insist on progression."