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William A. Gleason

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780814732465

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814732465.001.0001

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Piazza Tales

Piazza Tales

Architecture, Race, and Memory in Charles Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories

(p.67) 2 Piazza Tales
Sites Unseen

William A. Gleason

NYU Press

This chapter looks at the second phase of Charles Chesnutt's Uncle Julius stories, the so-called “piazza tales” which centers on the southern piazza as the central imaginative location in the conjure stories. This phase of Chesnutt's conjure tales is a crucial one, for it is here that he formulates an aggressively revisionist historicism that marks his own striking contribution to what architectural historian Dolores Hayden has termed “a politics of place construction.” The chapter shows how both the politics and the place in these stories emerge from Chesnutt's earlier fiction, particularly the first phase of conjure tales. Tracing the evolution of the piazza as a central imaginative space for Chesnutt leads to an accurate measurement of the costs and capitulations exacted by his eventual return to the “preferred fictions” of the final phase of stories. Reading the conjure tales in this way helps establish Chesnutt as one of the late nineteenth century's most incisive interpreters of race and the built environment.

Keywords:   Charles Chesnutt, Uncle Julius stories, conjure tales, piazza tales, race, built environment

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