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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

9 - The African American novel and popular culture

from Part II - Search for a form


The field of popular fiction is a relatively unexplored terrain in African American as well as American literary history and criticism. Reasons for this exclusion or oversight are manifold and range from academic practices and aesthetic standards that qualify a text for inclusion in the canon, to the politics of publishing, and the stereotypes or myths that persist about African American readers and their reading habits. In the fields of literary criticism and the teaching of African American literature, for example, scholars and critics alike have restricted their efforts to reviewing, promoting, and canonizing only those texts that fit the prevailing aesthetic and literary standards. While this paradigm - the New Criticism and the reading practices it has encouraged - has allowed for the inclusion of a few women writers and writers of color, it has kept in place a rigid division between high and low, or elite and mass culture, an emphasis on invention over convention, and a distinction between literary and commercial forms of literature that have shaped literary scholarship and reading practices to this day.

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