The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home

African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion

Title Details

Pages: 168

Illustrations: 1 figure

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4406-5

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 12/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3434-9

List Price: $120.95


Pub Date: 12/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4468-3

List Price: $24.95

The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home

African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion

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  • Description
  • Reviews

In The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home, John Cullen Gruesser establishes that African American writers at the turn of the twentieth century responded extensively and idiosyncratically to overseas expansion and its implications for domestic race relations. He contends that the work of these writers significantly informs not only African American literary studies but also U.S. political history.

Focusing on authors who explicitly connect the empire abroad and the empire at home ( James Weldon Johnson, Sutton Griggs, Pauline E. Hopkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, and others), Gruesser examines U.S. black participation in, support for, and resistance to expansion. Race consistently trumped empire for African American writers, who adopted positions based on the effects they believed expansion would have on blacks at home. Given the complexity of the debates over empire and rapidity with which events in the Caribbean and the Pacific changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it should come as no surprise that these authors often did not maintain fixed positions on imperialism. Their stances depended on several factors, including the foreign location, the presence or absence of African American soldiers within a particular text, the stage of the author’s career, and a given text’s relationship to specific generic and literary traditions.

No matter what their disposition was toward imperialism, the fact of U.S. expansion allowed and in many cases compelled black writers to grapple with empire. They often used texts about expansion to address the situation facing blacks at home during a period in which their citizenship rights, and their very existence, were increasingly in jeopardy.

The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home is a major achievement, a striking contribution to our understanding of African American literary and political history. Gruesser demonstrates authoritatively that literature is not simply a revealing supplement to the down-and-dirty history of empire and race but rather the major means by which that history emerged and took its tangled shape. Along the way, he reminds us that we have barely begun to piece together a just understanding of early-twentieth-century African American writing. Our debt to Gruesser’s painstaking research will, I predict, be great.

—John Ernest, author of Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History

Looking at late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century African American writers’ responses to U.S. imperialist expansion abroad, Gruesser expands our understanding of African American literature of the period and also of U.S. history, showing that African American commitment to antiracism did not stop at the nation’s borders. An important book for scholars and general readers alike.

—Elizabeth Ammons, author of Brave New Words: How Literature Will Save the Planet

The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home provides a fascinating and entirely original account of the African American response to the nation’s turn-of-the-century imperial adventures. Professor Gruesser adds a welcome new perspective to the study of American empire and reveals a dimension of black writing that has gone largely unnoticed by scholars.

—Eric J. Sundquist, author of King's Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" Speech

Through close, carefully crafted readings of the responses of African American writers to the Spanish-Cuban American War, the Philippine-American War, and US intervention in the Pacific, Central America, and Latin America, [Gruesser] offers an absorbing portrait of the wide-ranging, sometimes ambivalent, sometimes contradictory responses to these events. . . . This is a work that should attract the attention of many in the field.

—J. A. Mille, Choice

Through his insightful analysis of both familiar and understudied texts, Gruesser makes critical interventions in the fields of African American literature, African American cultural history, and American Studies. . . . As The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home powerfully reveals, African Americans’ efforts to combat racial terror and disenfranchisement on American soil required a strategic—and often highly selective—engagement with U.S. expansionist projects in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

—Reena N. Goldthree, The Journal of African American History

About the Author/Editor

JOHN CULLEN GRUESSER is a professor of English at Kean University in New Jersey. He is the author of White on Black and Black on Black and the editor of The Unruly Voice.