Theses Doctoral

"The Problem of Amusement": Trouble in the New Negro Narrative

Rodney, Mariel

This dissertation examines black writers' appropriations of blackface minstrelsy as central to the construction of a New Negro image in the early twentieth century U.S. Examining the work of artists who were both fiction writers and pioneers of the black stage, I argue that blackface, along with other popular, late-nineteenth century performance traditions like the cakewalk and ragtime, plays a surprising and paradoxical role in the self-consciously “new” narratives that come to characterize black cultural production in the first decades of the twentieth century. Rather than rejecting minstrelsy as antithetical to the New Negro project of forging black modernity, the novelists and playwrights I consider in this study—Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Weldon Johnson—adapted blackface and other popular performance traditions in order to experiment with narrative and dramatic form. In addition to rethinking the relationship between print and performance as modes of refashioning blackness, my project also charts an alternative genealogy of black cultural production that emphasizes the New Negro Movement as a cultural formation that precedes the Harlem Renaissance and anticipates its concerns.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Edwards, Brent Hayes
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 27, 2016