African American Literature, Black Historical Fiction, Contemporary Black Fiction


American Literature | Literature in English, North America

Document Type

Critical Essay (Special Topic)




“Fantasizing a Free Black History: Post-Black Arts Movement Novels and Plays Re-Imagining Jim Crow” closely reads one novel and one play written in the early twenty-first century and set in the Jim Crow period. Analyzing how Toni Morrison’s novel Love (2005) and Lynn Nottage’s drama By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (2011) take up Jim Crow era Black history together, I find that both works intentionally offer incomplete, subjective and fictive narrations of black life during Jim Crow to deny readers a sense of realism. In doing so, these authors represent a group of African American novelists and playwrights that contend with the decades following Black Arts Movement being so temporally removed from Jim Crow in two steps. Firstly, they acknowledge in their partial and obscure narratives that this historical Black experience cannot be fully recovered by treating Jim Crow Black history like a historical site to be discovered with a literary return. Secondly, they demonstrate in their direct appeal to their audiences to co-create the fictions’ narratives with the characters that black history can instead be a praxis of inter-generational, collaborative fiction writing that imagines past Black individuals, making them more transparent in the contemporary moment. These features of narrative and structural address signify that this group of post-Black Arts Movement authors consider Black individuals’ freedom during Jim Crow more accessible by conjecturing how it manifested with their audiences.