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Contact: Maryemma Graham or Sarah Arbuthnot, Project on the History of Black Writing, (785) 864-2561

New book on the African-American novel examines 150 years of black literature

LAWRENCE -- Working with U.S. and European scholars, Maryemma Graham, professor of English at the University of Kansas and director of the Project on the History of Black Writing, has edited a new book of essays, "The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel."

Released this summer by Cambridge University Press, the book, covering 150 years, is the first of a series planned by the Project on the History of Black Writing and the English university's press. A second volume is scheduled to be published in 2007. The series will provide scholarly and critical resources for students and teachers.

In the first volume, Graham invited scholars to examine 80 works by such authors as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Leon Forrest, Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, Alice Walker and Richard Wright. Recently recovered or acknowledged works, ranging from slave narratives to 20th-century pieces, also are discussed. Essays are grouped by theme, structure, period and influence and by relationship to relevant traditions.

"Our intent is to help readers gain a better appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the African-American novel," Graham said.

Graham and Giselle Lisa Anatol, KU assistant professor of English, contributed chapters to the first volume. Graham wrote the introduction; Anatol, a chapter on New World writers with historical ties to the Caribbean.

The book cover design is by Carol Ann Carter, KU professor of art.

Publication of the new book coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Project on the History of Black Writing, established by Graham in 1984 at the University of Mississippi and originally called the Afro-American Novel Project.

The project's national advisory board will meet at KU Oct. 1, in conjunction with the anniversary, to finalize plans for the series, which will be the first critical review of the full history of African-American literature.

The project not only provides resources for teachers and students on largely out-of-print and neglected novels by African Americans, but also supports research that challenges assumptions that African-Americans throughout the 19th century left only oral records because of widespread enforced illiteracy.

In 20 years, the project has received funding from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lemelson Foundation of Hampshire College and the KU Endowment Association to develop:
--A study guide for teachers and students to facilitate the use of African-American texts for classroom and research uses.
-- "A Checklist of the Afro-American Novel, 1853-1990"
-- A CD-ROM that includes the full text of 75 rare African-American novels written between 1853 and 1919. The works are available through Encarta Africana: Library of Black America.
-- A Website to expand outreach and service, www.ku.edu/~phbw/.

Maryemma Graham's recent books include "Conversations With Margaret Walker" (2002), "Fields Watered With Blood: Critical Essays on Margaret Walker" (2001) and "Teaching African American Literature: Theory and Practice" (1998). With the support of an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship, she is completing "The House Where My Soul Lives: A Biography of Margaret Walker" (University Press of Virginia). Graham, who is president of the Toni Morrison Society, earned a doctorate from Cornell University, master's degrees from Cornell and Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


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