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Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s original, groundbreaking study explores the relationship between the African and African-American vernacular traditions and black literature, elaborating a new critical approach located within this tradition that allows the black voice to speak for itself. Examiningthe ancient poetry and myths found in African, Latin American, and Caribbean culture, and particularly the Yoruba trickster figure of Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey whose myths help articulate the black tradition's theory of its literature, Gates uncovers a unique system of interpretationand a powerful vernacular tradition that black slaves brought with them to the New World. His critical approach relies heavily on the Signifying Monkey--perhaps the most popular figure in African-American folklore--and signification and Signifyin(g). Exploring signification in black American lifeand literature by analyzing the transmission and revision of various signifying figures, Gates provides an extended analysis of what he calls the "Talking Book," a central trope in early slave narratives that virtually defines the tradition of black American letters. Gates uses this criticalframework to examine several major works of African-American literature--including Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo--revealing how these works signify on the black tradition and on each other. The second volume in anenterprising trilogy on African-American literature, The Signifying Monkey--which expands the arguments of Figures in Black--makes an important contribution to literary theory, African-American literature, folklore, and literary history.
W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University; Editor-in-Chief, Oxford African American Studies Center. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Skip," is one of the most powerful academic voices in America. In 1997 Gates was voted one of Time Magazine's "25 Most Influential Americans." He is most recognized for his extensive research of African American history and literature, and for developing and expanding the African American Studies program at Harvard University. The first black to have received a Ph.D. from Cambridge, Gates is the author of many books, articles, essays, and reviews, and has received numerous awards and honorary degrees. Gates, who has displayed an endless dedication to bringing African-American culture to the public, has co-authored, co-edited, and produced some of the most comprehensive African-American reference materials in the country
Table of Contents
Preface Introduction Part One - Theory of the Tradition 1. A Myth of Origins 2. The Signifying Monkey and the Language of Signifyin(g) 3. Figures of Signification Part Two - Reading the Tradition 4. The Trope of the Talking Book 5. Zora Neale Hurston and the Spearkerly Text 6. On "The Blackness of Blackness": Ishmael Reed and a Critique of the Sign 7. Color Me Zora: Alice Walker's (Re)Writing of the Speakerly Text