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Abstract

ABSTRACT This dissertation examines the generations of popular black writers that initiated the process of desegregating the U.S. publishing industry from 1919 – 1972. The study argues that by exploring their and others’ myriad, fitful efforts to produce “universal” American culture between these years, an historical genealogy for “African American literature,” created by African Americans, emerges. Because modern black cultural nationalism would not take off—or be appreciated or supported in earnest—until the mid-1960s, the bulk of the study traces the shifting and capricious “raceless” media landscape African American writers navigated from 1940 through the 1950s. By working against popular and scholarly works that consider “Negro literature” in racially segregated terms, the dissertation questions how black writers, who increasingly sought white Americans as possible audiences between these years, developed new techniques as they established, validated, and asserted their humanism.

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