Saturday, August 4, 2012

James Smethurst's exceptionally thorough Black Arts Work

Crucial guides: Eugene B. Redmond's Drumvoices & James Smethurst's The Black Arts Movement
There's sometimes a tendency in the field of literary studies to be disappointed when someone else does "your" project. That's understandable, I suppose, especially if publishers are less willing to grant opportunities for your work if it's perceived to have already been done. But in the case of my own research and writing on the black arts era, I was pleased and relieved when James Smethurst's The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (2005) was published.

Folks regularly cite Toni Morrison's observation that she wrote the kind of book that she wanted to read. It wasn't like that with me. In my efforts to become a black arts scholar, I had plenty of models. And in this case, Smethurst had written the book that I wanted to read.

I first met Smethurst years ago at a literature conference, where he made a presentation on a part of his developing research on The Black Arts Movement. When I approached him after the presentation and mentioned that I was focusing on aspects of the Black Arts Movement in my graduate studies, he was supportive and followed up with emails sending me important, useful writings to look over as I thought and wrote more about the era.

What was clear from his presentation at that conference and the eventual book he published was that Smethurst is exceptionally thorough. He covers everything and everybody and offers an overarching look at the lead up to the key events and beyond. Smethurst's book, like Eugene B. Redmond's Drumvoices, were indispensable guides for the work that I would do in my own book. More importantly, Redmond and Smethurst had given me expansive views of the contributions and interactivity of dozens of literary artists, editors, and supporters of the arts.

I'm in the early sections of Smethurst's more recent book The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance (2011), but I can already sense that the work displays his typical thoroughness. And like his book The Black Arts Movement, I imagine the new one will serve as an important guide.    

Black Intellectual Histories
A Notebook on the Black Arts Era

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