Postcolonialism, African American Literary Studies, and the Black Atlantic

John Cullen Gruesser

What can African Americanists and postcolonialists learn from each other?


"Confluences is concise and cogent. Because he so ably demonstrates his critique and suggestions through deliberate readings of texts that cause us to question some of the more popular of contemporary critical suppositions, his book will be of tremendous interest to a wide range of readers and scholars."
—Aldon L. Nielsen, Pennsylvania State University

"Confluences joins Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic in the first rank of books investigating African American literature's place in the postcolonial tradition. Placing postcolonialism in dialogue with the major texts of African American literary theory, Gruesser provides a deft introduction to the major currents of postcolonial theory and makes a compelling case for postcolonialism as an appropriate touchstone for black criticism in the new century."
—Craig Werner, author of A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America

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Confluences looks at the prospects for and the potential rewards of breaking down theoretical and disciplinary barriers that have tended to separate African American and postcolonial studies. John Cullen Gruesser’s study emphasizes the confluences among three major theories that have emerged in literary and cultural studies in the past twenty-five years: postcolonialism, Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Signifyin(g), and Paul Gilroy’s black Atlantic.

For readers who may not be well acquainted with one or more of the three theories, Gruesser provides concise introductions in the opening chapter. In addition, he urges those people working in postcolonial or African American literary studies to attempt to break down the boundaries that in recent years have come to isolate the two fields. Gruesser then devotes a chapter to each theory, examining one literary text that illustrates the value of the theoretical model, a second text that extends the model in a significant way, and a third text that raises one or more questions about the theory. His examples are drawn from the writings of Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, V. S. Naipaul, Walter Mosley, Pauline Hopkins, Toni Morrison, Harry Dean, Harriet Jacobs, and Alice Walker.

Cautious not to conflate postcolonial and African American studies, Gruesser encourages critics to embrace the black Atlantic’s emphases on movement through space (routes rather than roots) and intercultural connections and to expand and where appropriate to emend Gilroy’s efforts to bridge the two fields.

Page count: 192 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $23.95

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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.