Kimberly FainColson Whitehead: The Postracial Voice of Contemporary Literature

Rowman and Littlefield, 2015

by Philip Witteveen on November 30, 2015

Kimberly Fain

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Colson Whitehead's fiction has drawn varied criticism. On the one hand, there's the scholarship of the African diaspora, a tradition that takes the long view of Whitehead–extrapolating him from their existing canon (of Du Bois, Hurston, Ellison, etc.); on the other hand, there's the conversation on Whitehead's work that's happening more in the literary main stream. On Kimberly Fain's view, the last word is somewhere in between, and in her Colson Whitehead: The Postracial Voice of Contemporary Literature (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), she considers a more integral fiction: one both a product of a long history and of an intermediating pop culture.

The big task of Colson Whitehead is to position the fictionist as a "postracial" figure–a figure who represents a changing attitude on the concept and reality of race. What would it mean to live a really, truly colorblind America? You can see inklings in Whitehead, especially in his latter work. And while it is clear from Whitehead's own (critical) writing that postracialism is–to us, now–still an ideal, it's in the same writing where race begins to matter not less, but perhaps just in a different way. That race might begin to signify culture, community, a legacy in art–and something less sociopolitical or less economic.

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