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Calvin Coolidge Hernton «THE SEXUAL MOUNTAIN AND BLACK WOMEN WRITERS» Kirkus Review - portions of this piece are excerpted from «Umpteen Essays in Search of a Novel, 1983-2023»

  • National Book Critics Circle


A rap on race, politics and black feminist literature by the author of Sex and Racism in America (1965)
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Kirkus Reviews
Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1987
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday
A rap on race, politics and black feminist literature by the author of Sex and
Racism in America (1965). It began in 1979 with Ntozake Shange's Colored
Girls and Michelle Wallace's Black Macho; it climaxed in 1986 with Stephen
Spielberg's popular calamity, The Color Purple: Now that the homeboys
(James Baldwin, Claude Browne, Eldridge Cleaver, et al.) were no longer kings of the hill, the black
feminist delegation was clamoring for its turn. In public, elder statesmen of the literary black caucus
fumed; in private, aesthetical Young Turks, feeling that the principle casualty of this most recent skirmish
in the battle of the sexes was not black manhood but Art, jumped. This is where and when Hernton
enters, his thesis being black women's age-old oppression under a triple tyranny of classism, racism, and
sexism, his literary-sociological critiques a timely primer of the ""womanist"" aesthetic. Hernton's politics
are rooted in the reality that, for blacks, literature has historically been no luxury but, quite the contrary, a
life-and-death undertaking: ""What motivated [them] to write was the condition of oppression, and what
they desired of their writing was for it to ameliorate their condition."" But the danger inherent in this
social-working spirit is that it accommodates any manner of mediocrity--so long as it provides apt
occasion for special pleading. (Hernton's own essay-apologies in defense of yesterday's neglected ""negro
problem novel"" and today's pampered militant verse are models of their kind.) And the result is a kind of
literary slum, an ""ebony islet"" ghetto (within a ghetto) unvisited and unclaimed by the wider world
elsewhere. The human spirit is ultimately unhyphenated, and any one-ism unequal to the expressive
demands of its entirety--however righteous or talented the-ist. A family matter, finally, this sibling rivalry
between the ""sisters"" and the ""brothers""--which is not so much to say it's unimportant as that its
necessary limitations may make it of limited interest to those without the tribe.
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