White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination

Graywolf. Aug. 2019. 320p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781555978327. pap. $16ebk. ISBN 9781555978815. LIT
Row (Your Face in Mine) learned early on to love literature, and like so many possessed of—and by—creative fire, immersed himself in works by “the greats.” Only later did the author experience an urgent need to learn why most of these creators and their worlds were predominantly white. Inspired to uncover and confront the costs of American literary voices ignoring diversity in their own land, Row embarked on an inarguably bleak journey. Yet bleak doesn’t mean hopeless, and Row’s lucid explorations of writing by James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, Toni Morrison, James Alan McPherson, and others venture beyond criticism, citing Albert Murray’s counternarrative that “[t]he practice of improvisatory freedom in black culture is the essence of American culture itself.” Row’s arguments further range across film and music, noting that coolness, the hipster, emo, and white blues are derived from African American culture—which should be obvious but isn’t. Moving outside of white literature’s often isolated and emotionally numb terrain, the author discusses how reparative writing can effect reconciliation.
VERDICT For readers fascinated by race and reparative writing, now and in American history, and the transformative potential of literature to change minds and emphasize our common humanity. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/19.]
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