Dissertation Musings: African-, Jewish-, and Mormon-American Literatures

From Catherine Rottenberg’s Performing Americanness: Race, Class, and Gender in Modern African-American and Jewish-American Literature. (Dartmouth CP, 2008):

“The fascination with the novels produced by the emergent African-American middle class and the newly arrived Jewish immigrants, two groups locate on the periphery of US society during the Progressive Era and Harlem Renaissance, seems to persist because these literary text raise questions about what it means to be American with particular force. The narratives not only confront the topical issues of gender, race, class, and ethnicity with important insight, but they also address marginalization and social stratification with an urgency difficult to ignore.” (1)

Can we (and should we) not say the same about Mormon fiction in the early twentieth century?

I think one important work Mormon literature scholars can do is situate early twentieth-century Mormon literature within this group of marginal/ized American writers.


“Not only did these two minority literatures [i.e. African- and Jewish-American literatures] undergo a transformation at around the same time, but both the African- and the Jewish-American fiction produced at the turn of the last century describe the rapidly changing historical landscapes and highlight how such changes created and stimulated certain conflicts vis-a-vis notions of Americanness. This literature is acutely aware of the liminal positions of African and Jewish Americans at the time; and quite a few of the novels dramatize the ways that these minority groups attempted to move from margin to center by carving our a niche for themselves in mainstream U.S. society as well as the mechanisms by and through which these groups were excluded from sites of power.” (3)

Again, can we not say the same thing about the works of Nephi Anderson, Susa Young Gates, and Josephine Spencer?

Where was this book a year ago when I was writing about early twentieth-century Mormon fiction?


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