Recovering Alice Dunbar-Nelson for the Twenty-First Century (special issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers)
This essay introduces the special issue, “Recovering Alice Dunbar-Nelson for the Twenty-First Century,” by exploring a question: What happens when we place Dunbar-Nelson’s life and writing at the center of analysis, using these to investigate the critical paradigms that once marginalized and distorted her legacy? We argue that Dunbar-Nelson’s work offers fertile ground for scholarly meta-reflection of the sort currently animating our discipline, inviting us rethink approaches to authorship, biography, period, genre, and cultural identity as frames for recovery and interpretation. Dunbar-Nelson wrote in a dizzying array of genres, from short fiction, novels, and poetry, to plays and film scripts, essays, reviews, and nationally-syndicated columns. She worked throughout her life to promote the civil, political, economic, and educational rights of all African Americans and all women. She was a cultural critic and political commentator of razor-sharp intelligence, skeptical of pieties and party lines. She celebrated myriad pleasures – erotic, sensual, and aesthetic – through her writing and relationships. Our essay emphasizes the complexity and vibrancy of Dunbar-Nelson’s life and work, surveying the rich variety of her output as a writer (some of it still awaiting publication) and her professional and activist pursuits (including her little-known collaborations with W.E.B. Du Bois). In the process, we confront the critical assumptions and habits that have too often pigeonholed her as a quaint local colorist, a minor Harlem Renaissance poet, or the sometime wife of Paul Laurence Dunbar. We propose that rediscovering Alice Dunbar-Nelson will also reveal much about our own practices as scholars of US literature and culture.
Adams, Katherine, Caroline Gebhard, and Sandra A. Zagarell, guest eds. 2016. Recovering Alice Dunbar-Nelson for the Twenty-First Century. Special issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 33(2): 213-446.
University of Nebraska Press
Adams, Katherine, Gebhard, Caroline, Zagarell, Sandra A.
Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Editors authored introduction to issue.