In the first half of the twentieth century, the United States moved from the periphery to the center of global cultural production. At the same time, technologies of dissemination evolved rapidly, and versions of modernism emerged as dominant art forms. How did African American, European immigrant, and other minority writers take part in these developments that also transformed the United States, giving it an increasingly multicultural self-awareness? This book attempts to address this question in a series of innovative and engaging close readings of major texts by Gertrude Stein, Mary Antin, Jean Toomer, O. E. Rölvaag, Nathan Asch, Henry Roth, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Pietro di Donato, Jerre Mangione, John Hersey, and Leo Szilard, as well as briefer examinations of many other authors and works, against the background of international political developments, the rise of modernism in the visual arts, and the ascendancy of Ernest Hemingway as a model for prose writers.
In many of Werner Sollors’s sensitive readings, single sentences and paragraphs serve as the representative formal units of prose works, while throughout Ethnic Modernism the trolley (now a cute-seeming object of nostalgia) emerges with surprising frequency as a central thematic emblem of modernity.
Restless and powerful, Ethnic Modernism does more than reconnect modernism with ethnicity; it recasts modernism entirely. This is vintage Sollors: Out-of-the-box, profound, and brimming with brio.
Sollors does a great service to the study of literary modernism by placing disparate ethnic literary traditions with in the larger context of American modernism, arguing that as an aggregate, they constitute modernism.
Evidently Werner Sollors has read everything that was written in the US in the first half of the 20th century. As he did so he paid special attention to issues of ethnicity, class, and race in and around modernist texts canonical and forgotten. The result is an important new literary history of the period, informed by vast erudition and tactful interpretation, ranging gracefully across the visual arts, music, and film, and presented in so lively and engrossing a form that it is hard to put down.
Full of surprising discoveries and exhilarating juxtapositions, Ethnic Modernism demonstrates beyond any doubt that American literature has long since been more multicultural and global than any prevailing definition of the terms would have us believe.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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