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In the African-American Grain ePub

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John F. Callahan places African American literary traditions in the context of older oral traditions and in relation to democratic processes (discussing "the double craft of fiction and democracy") and the social responsibilities that accompany belonging to a community.He focuses on African American writers' attention to voice in their works, arguing that "in literary works the relationship between writer and reader is necessarily more remote [than in oral communication:], if not imaginary, African-American writers use the act of voice as a metaphor for the process of change" that occurs in the oral tradition, specifically in the use of call-and-response.He continues, "In their hands call-and-response evolves into a resilient literary device that persuades readers to become symbolic and then perhaps actual participants in the task of image-making, of storytelling."

Where Henry Louis Gates writes about Signifyin(g), about the process whereby African American writers place themselves in a larger conversation, Callahan expands upon this to write about the ways in which African American writers invite their readers into that conversation alongside them:

"Specifically, call-and-response awakens a number of dormant relationships:between different writers; different readers; different texts; different characters in the same text; a writer and his characters; and always between a writer and his fictionalized and actual readers and between those same readers and the writer.Symbolically present in the literary genre of fiction, these variations of call-and-response summon us to read and hear and, potentially, contribute to the still unfolding 'immense story' in our lives and voices beyond the solitary, private act of reading" (21).

He provides examples from Charles Chesnutt's The Goophered Grapevine, Jean Toomer's Cane, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Ernest J. Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane PIttman , Alice Walker's Meridian, and, to a lesser degree, The Color Purple, A Gathering of Old Men, The Chaneysville Incident, and Dessa Rose.

African American writers, Callahan concludes, "demand participatory commitment from their readers.Their work and our work is the work of fiction and citizenship, and from this perspective call-and-response is a name of the evolving dialogic forms of democracy.Writers, readers, and citizens of every background, characteristic, and persuasion:each and every one are called to answer that still reverberating American question:Who we for?" (263).

Callahan's overarching argument is an important one; however, the chapters of analysis of specific texts do not do enough to further explicate this argument.They illustrate but do not expand the ideas in his introduction and conclusion.
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