The first part of Graham's article in particular was illuminating for me as she charted out a history of the field explaining how African American literary studies turned away from a focus on issues concerning teaching and began devoting more attention to theory and criticism. The histories of black literary journals, noted Graham, offered a sign of the changing times and interest:
The premier journal in black literature today, African American Review, founded in 1967 as Negro American Literature Forum, bore the subtitle "For School and University Teachers" and received its support from Indiana State University's School of Education. The first change occurred in the title: Negro to Black when the journal moved to the College of Liberal Arts. African American Review, like many early black journals, followed the conventional practice of subordinating pedagogy to literary criticism, as the need to validate and "credential" black literature increased. A similar case holds for the College Language Journal, founded ten years earlier in 1957. While the name did not change, a review of the contents over more than five decades shows the progression from discussions of teaching practice, to major essays on traditional British and American literature, to today's focus almost exclusively on African American literary criticism.Re-reading Graham's article and then thinking about P. Gabrielle Foreman's recent article about struggles of black scholars of early African American literature had me remembering the need for even more notes on the field of African American literary studies.
The history that Graham presents is really important. She clarifies the extents to which the current state and focus of our field were not inevitable. What if, for example, leading scholars, funding institutions, and journals had decided to continue focusing on pedagogy and students? What if the field had produced considerably more conferences, articles, and books "for school and university teachers" over the last 25 years?
We really need more histories and sketches of the field like the ones that Graham and Foreman have produced.
• The Field of African American Literary Studies
• Notes on P. Gabrielle Foreman's "Riff, Call, and Response" Pt. 1
• Notes on P. Gabrielle Foreman's "Riff, Call, and Response" Pt. 2
• The Demographics of Literary fields (and sub-fields)
• Digital humanities, print culture & African American literary studies