Existentialist Thought in African American Literature Before 1940 is the first collection of its kind to break new ground in arguing that long before its classification by Jean-Paul Sartre, African American literature embodied existentialist thought. To make its case, this daring book dissects eight notable texts: Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Sojourner Truth's Ain't I A Woman (1861), Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl (1861), Sutton E. Griggs's Imperium in Imperio (1899), James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). It explores and addresses a wide range of complex philosophical concepts such as: authenticity, potentiality-for-authentic living, bad faith, and existentialism from the Christian point of view. The use of interdisciplinary studies such as gender studies, queer studies, Christian ethics, mixed-race studies, and existentialism, allows the authors within this book to lend unique perspectives in examining selected African American literary works.
Melvin Hill is associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Martin.