Toward a New Political History of African American Literature
This introductory chapter provides an overview of the political value of African American literature through an examination of Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama. Prior to their careers as elected officials, both men wrote books that had been influential in shaping public opinion on the nation's democratic potential as well as on their own personal, political, and presidential qualifications. In 1776, Jefferson coauthored the Declaration of Independence, and in 1787, he published an authoritative ethnography of early America. Meanwhile, Obama released three bestselling books of autobiographical nonfiction and public policy. Evidently, African American literature fueled their political imaginations. Thus, this book looks at African American literature's role in political imagination and political action—to the extent that it can facilitate social change—and political action's role in the African American literary imagination.
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