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Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices

ISBN-10: 0195089146
ISBN-13: 9780195089141
Edition: 1993 (Reprint)
List price: $34.99 Buy it from $3.00
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Description: Published in 1884, Huck Finn has become one of the most widely taught novels in American curricula. But where did Huckleberry Finn come from, and what made it so distinctive? Shelley Fisher Fishkin suggests that in Huckleberry Finn, more than in any  More...

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Book details

List price: $34.99
Copyright year: 1993
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 5/5/1994
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 288
Size: 5.50" wide x 8.00" long x 0.75" tall
Weight: 0.550

Published in 1884, Huck Finn has become one of the most widely taught novels in American curricula. But where did Huckleberry Finn come from, and what made it so distinctive? Shelley Fisher Fishkin suggests that in Huckleberry Finn, more than in any other work, Mark Twain let African-American voices, language, and rhetorical traditions play a major role in the creation of his art. In Was Huck Black?, Fishkin combines close readings of published and unpublished writing by Twain with intensive biographical and historical research and insights gleaned from linguistics, literary theory, and folklore to shed new light on the role African-American speech played in the genesis of Huckleberry Finn. Given that book's importance in American culture, her analysis illuminates, as well, how the voices of African-Americans have shaped our sense of what is distinctively "American" about American literature. Fishkin shows that Mark Twain was surrounded, throughout his life, by richly talented African-American speakers whose rhetorical gifts Twain admired candidly and profusely. A black child named Jimmy whom Twain called "the most artless, sociable and exhaustless talker I ever came across" helped Twain understand the potential of a vernacular narrator in the years before he began writing Huckleberry Finn, and served as a model for the voice with which Twain would transform American literature. A slave named Jerry whom Twain referred to as an "impudent and satirical and delightful young black man" taught Twain about "signifying"--satire in an African-American vein--when Twain was a teenager (later Twain would recall that he thought him "the greatest man in the United States" at the time). Other African-American voices left their mark on Twain's imagination as well--but their role in the creation of his art has never been recognized. Was Huck Black? adds a new dimension to current debates over multiculturalism and the canon. American literary historians have told a largely segregated story: white writers come from white literary ancestors, black writers from black ones. The truth is more complicated and more interesting. While African-American culture shaped Huckleberry Finn, that novel, in turn, helped shape African-American writing in the twentieth century. As Ralph Ellison commented in an interview with Fishkin, Twain "made it possible for many of us to find our own voices." Was Huck Black? dramatizes the crucial role of black voices in Twain's art, and takes the first steps beyond traditional cultural boundaries to unveil an American literary heritage that is infinitely richer and more complex than we had thought.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin received her B.A. from Yale College. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at Yale University. She taught American Studies and English at the University of Texas from 1985 to 2003, and was Chair of the Department of American Studies. Since 2003 she has been a professor at the English Department of Stanford University. She has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, was a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer in Japan and was the winner of a Harry H. Ransom Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Texas. Much of her work is focused on Mark Twain but she has also published works on writers such as Frederick Douglass and Theodore Dreiser. Her research interests have lead her to focus on the influence of African American voices on American literature. Dr. Fishkin is the author, editor or co-editor of over forty books and has published over eighty articles and reviews. Her book Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices was selected as an "Outstanding Academic Book" by Choice in 1993.

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Jimmy
Jerry
Jim
Break Dancing in the Drawing Room
Coda
Notes
Works Cited
Sociable Jimmy
Index

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