Slave Songs and the Birth of African American Poetry
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This book restores the slaves’ songs to their rightful place in American literature for their intrinsic value as lyric poetry, and as a touchstone of the American imagination.
Lauri Ramey is Director of the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics and Professor of African American Literature and Culture and Creative Writing, at California State University, Los Angeles.
“A final quintet of publications attests to interest in the lasting effects of 19th-century culture and ideas. Lauri Ramey, Slave Songs and the Birth of African American Poetry (Palgrave), presents a valuable study of the formal and thematic characteristics of slave songs, most of which were collected and published in the latter half of the century. Ramey explains how they have been marginalized in the disciplinary study of folklore, religion, and music while also making a strong case for reading them as poetry, as literary texts worthy of inclusion in the canon. In a series of thematically and topically arranged chapters, she demonstrates their influence on Paul Laurence Dunbar and on a wide array of later poets.”–American Literary Scholarship“The corpus of slave songs is enormous, and their impact on African American literature has long been acknowledged. But little has been written about the connection between these songs and American literature. Slave songs are usually marginalized in, or omitted altogether from, literary anthologies and studies of verse. Even classic, if now dated, works examining the songs–including Lawrence Levine’s Black Culture and Black Consciousness (CH, Jul’77) and Dena Epstein’s Sinful Tunes and Spirituals (CH, Sep’78)–fail to discuss the poetic aspects of the songs. Ramey (CSU, Los Angeles) attempts to fill this glaring void with this erudite yet readable volume. The author provides provocative analyses of some of the individual songs (e.g., “Poor Pilgrim” and “Steal Away”). More importantly, she sheds light on their originality and their African roots, including the call-and-response tradition. In so doing, she makes a strong argument for studying these important pieces in light of their lyric poetic qualities. This is a book for all who are interested in African American literature and in poetry more broadly.”–Choice“Ramey argues that spirituals and slave songs are central to the literary legacy of the U.S., both in their own right as a form that goes to the heart of the American experience and as a major reference of the American imagination, through their influence on black and white writers alike. This book restores the spiritual to its rightful place in the American literary canon and will certainly stimulate scholarly interest in the spiritual as art form.”– F. Abiola Irele, Harvard University
The Slave Songs and the Lyric Poetry Traditions * The Theology of the Lyric Tradition in the Slave Songs * Slave Songs as American Poetry * Border Crossing with the Slave Songs
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