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Watson Publishes Book on Whiteness in African American Literature

Veronica Watson and her book, The Souls of White FolkVeronica Watson’s book, The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness, was released by the University Press of Mississippi in September 2013. It is the first book to examine whiteness as an intellectual tradition within African American literature.

While most have argued that African American authors retreated from issues of “race” when they wrote about whiteness, Watson instead identifies this body of writing as an African American intellectual and literary tradition that she names “the literature of white estrangement.”

Covering 1870s–1960s in American history and culture, chapters present compelling analyses of:

  • White double consciousness, or the pernicious effect of racism on white Americans (W.E.B. DuBois and Charles Chesnutt);
  • White womanhood, class identity, and power (Zora Neale Hurston and Frank Yerby); and
  • The construction of whiteness through violence and the control of physical spaces (Melba Patillo Beals).

The Souls of White Folk excavates the ways that African American intellectuals wrote against the mythologies and traditions of whiteness in pursuit of racial and social justice. In so doing, Watson highlights the amazing generosity of spirit and concern for white humanity from which African Americans often wrote. Their work, she argues, grew from a “sociological imperative to remake the world, and a spiritual imperative to create one in which human recognition and community is possible.”

Veronica Watson is a professor of English. Her essays have been published in Mississippi Quarterly and the Journal of Ethnic American Literature, among others, and she has presented her work at leading international and national academic venues, including as an invited guest speaker in the Fulbright Commission for Educational Exchange in Nepal. She is also the director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Intercultural Research at IUP, the convener of the Frederick Douglass Institute Collaborative of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and is on the board of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

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