Cover: A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama, from Harvard University PressCover: A Home Elsewhere in HARDCOVER

A Home Elsewhere

Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama

Provocative… Stepto discusses literature about as well as anyone, and it’s a genuine pleasure to follow his joyful excursions through Douglass, Du Bois, Morrison and others.—Jabari Asim, The Washington Post

Stepto’s incisive analysis involves, for example, a very close reading of how writers from James Weldon Johnson to Du Bois to Obama himself have written about their school day blues, their initiation into racial difference by white classmates… Stepto’s willingness to confront the white reader of African American classics becomes, in the end, the great strength of this book… In the introduction, Stepto quotes Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) description of how, in America, African Americans are ‘at once unseen and constantly observed.’ Stepto’s meditations force the white reader, including and especially the allegedly ‘color-blind’ reader in the Age of Obama, to confront this paradox, this internal security system of America’s racial and racist system of control.—W. Scott Poole, PopMatters

This is a collection of essays both timely and classic.—Alison M. Lewis, Library Journal

By juxtaposing [Obama’s] Dreams from My Father with a variety of texts, including critical pieces on African-American literature, Stepto illuminates the lasting validity of these classics and their importance to our modern times.Publishers Weekly

Robert Stepto’s A Home Elsewhere is a tour de force. Literary history and autobiography flow in its pages until one is aware of what Ellison called time’s ‘nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead.’ In his introduction Stepto writes of realizing ‘in broad terms that there was a project to pursue that involved being attentive to how we read African American literature at the present moment’ of Barack Obama’s election. In mid-sentence, Stepto responds to his own call, and his cadenced subtle prose becomes a prose of revelation: ‘knowing, and actually being stunned by the fact, that an African American writer is our president.’ Reading the chapters on Douglass and Obama, and Du Bois and Obama, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all of Stepto’s distinguished work as literary scholar (From Behind the Veil) and autobiographer (Blue as the Lake) prepared him in a unique, almost providential way to write this book. A scene of communion opens up in his pages. There stands Douglass, there is Du Bois, there Obama, approaching tentatively until Stepto gallops up, bends down, lifts all three writers upon his back, and, hooves pounding the earth, himself soon becomes a son of Pegasus. All four fly freely through air and sky, the reader borne aloft in the updraft.—John F. Callahan, literary executor for Ralph Ellison and author of In the African-American Grain: The Pursuit of Voice in Twentieth-Century Black Fiction

No single work was more important in the revolution in close reading that electrified African American literary studies in the nineteen eighties than was Robert Burns Stepto’s From Behind the Veil, a work as deeply insightful as it was engagingly written. Stepto reminded us, after Keats, that one dives into the lake not merely or necessarily to swim to the other side, but to enjoy the dive. Let us hope, at the end of another era of reductive thematic (race, class, gender) criticism, that this marvelous book can once again play that salutary role in redirecting readers to the sheer splendors of close reading, reminding us of the pleasures of luxuriating in the language of African American texts.—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, by Bruno Latour, translated by Catherine Porter, from Harvard University Press

Honoring Latour

In awarding Bruno Latour the 2021 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Inamori Foundation said he has “revolutionized the conventional view of science” and “his philosophy re-examines ‘modernity’ based on the dualism of nature and society.” Below is an excerpt from An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. For more than twenty years, scientific and technological controversies have proliferated in number and scope, eventually reaching the climate itself. Since geologists are beginning to use the term “Anthropocene” to designate the era of Earth’s history that follows the Holocene