In Assistant Professor Jonathan Gray’s new book Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination, he explores the ways in which four major American writers, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer, Eudora Welty, and William Styron, interpret and subsequently shape the civil rights movement through their writing. All writers published major publications prior to and after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that were a response and reflection to the national discussion on race and democracy.
“I really wanted to push on the cliché that the civil rights movement changed America,” said Gray. “We take that as a truism but fail to contend with what that really means. This is why the book ends with a consideration of Obama’s 2008 candidacy, since he was running in a field prepared in part by the works of these writers.”
Gray traces the evolution of these writers’ own thinking about race and civil rights and suggests that their impressions were often based on stereotypical conceptions of an innocent South abdicated of any responsibility in regards to racial affairs. Gray posits that these four iconic writers also wrote from a foundation that implied African Americans were culturally and politically ignorant, therefore, resulting in sympathetic and condescending undertones within their work.
Professor Gray received dual BAs in English and Philosophy from Howard University, and his Ph.D. in American Literature from The CUNY Graduate School and University Center. His research interests include post-World War II American literature and culture, African American literature, Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Black masculinity, and Race in Popular Culture. He has contributed scholarship to Rutgers University Press, Oxford University Press and McFarland, and written articles for Salon, Entertainment Weekly and the New Inquiry.
Professor Gray’s first book,Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination (University Press of Mississippi) is now available at http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1534.