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Playing with Expectations

Postmodern Narrative Choices and the African American Novel


Preston Park Cooper

Playing with Expectations: Postmodern Narrative Choices and the African American Novel explores a merging of works by African American novelists to promote critical acceptance of postmodern literature and advance the legitimacy and usefulness of postmodern literary techniques. This book examines novels by Ishmael Reed, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison, and two novels by comparative newcomer Colson Whitehead – all of whom have used postmodern techniques not only to help their work be read, but to gain a racially wide audience that is open, willing, and able to understand.
Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of local narratives and grand narratives helps show how African American novels, using postmodern strategies, function as small-scale narratives. Consequently, these narratives, set up in opposition to hegemonic metanarratives, offer readers an alternative mode of thinking to that offered by the larger, more widely diffused and self-distributing grand narratives. By providing realistic characters in ways that defy the typical grand narratives of race, as well as the expectations of storytelling itself, readers are stimulated into new realizations about previously accepted ideas, and become prepared to spread the now-realized truth about the inaccuracies of the racist grand narratives.
This book is a vital and thought-provoking addition to the ongoing conversation about storytelling and race, and will engage readers in classroom discussions dealing with race, postmodernism, or twentieth-century literature in a more general sense.
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Works by Ishmael Reed, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, and Colson Whitehead

Johnson, C. (1998). Dreamer. New York: Simon and Schuster.

_____. (1990). Middle Passage. New York: Plume.

_____. (1986). The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. New York: Penguin.

_____. (1999). “Whole Sight: Notes on New Black Fiction.” In R. P. Byrd (Ed.), I Call Myself An Artist: Writings by and About Charles Johnson. (pp. 85–90). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Morrison, T. (1987). Beloved. New York: Knopf.

_____. (1992). Jazz. New York: Knopf.

_____. (1998). Paradise. New York: Random House/Knopf.

_____. (1987). Song of Solomon. 1977. New York: Penguin.

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