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  • Published: 30 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241678527
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 304

The Black Box

Writing the Race




A foundational reckoning with how Black Americans have used the written word to define and redefine themselves, by one of the nation's major literary critics

Distilled over many years from Henry Louis Gates Jr's legendary Harvard course in African American Studies, The Black Box: Writing the Race is the story of Black self-definition in America through the prism of the writers who have led the way. From Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, to Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, these writers used words to create a liveable world – a "home" – for Black people destined to live in a bitterly racist society.

This is a community that defined and transformed itself in defiance of oppression and lies; a collective act of resistance and transcendence that is at the heart of its self-definition. Out of that contested ground has flowered a resilient, creative, powerful, diverse culture formed by people who have often disagreed markedly about what it means to be 'Black', and about how best to shape a usable past out of the materials at hand, to call into being a more just and equitable future.

This is the epic story of how, through essays and speeches, novels, plays and poems, a long line of creative thinkers has unveiled the contours of – and resisted confinement in – the black box that this "nation within a nation" has been assigned, from its founding to today. It is a book that records the compelling saga of the creation of a people.

  • Published: 30 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241678527
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 304

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Praise for The Black Box

PRAISE FOR STONY THE ROAD: 'A bracing alternative to Trump-era white nationalism ... In our current politics we recognise African-American history – the spot under our country's rug where the terrorism and injustices of white supremacy are habitually swept. Stony the Road lifts the rug ... essential ... a history that very much needs telling and hearing in these times.

Nell Irvin Painter, New York Times Book Review

[A] luminous history of Reconstruction, and the savage white backlash that derailed it. ... Few authors approach such difficult history with the unblinking clarity of Gates, the esteemed Harvard professor, historian, and scholar.

Boston Globe

Concise, powerful ... an important addition to America's evolving view of its own history.

The Economist