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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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“A Song without Words”: Black Thunder



Let us consider two inflammatory passages:

Like a cancer, eating into the vitals of Alabama law and order, this tirade is being driven into the heart and the brain of the negro with the hope that it will ignite the spark of savagery that once controlled the instincts of his ancestors and send him tearing at the throat of the white man.

It is evident that the French principles of liberty and equality have been infused into the minds of the Negroes and that the incautious and intemperate use of the words by some whites among us have inspired them with confidence … While the fiery Hotspurs of the State vociferate their French babble of the natural equality of man, the insulted Negro will be constantly stimulated to cast away his cords and to sharpen his pike.

The second passage comes from Black Thunder, Arna Bontemps’s 1938 masterpiece of historical meditation. The language is borrowed from contemporary newspapers that attributed Gabriel’s thwarted 1800 slave uprising in Richmond, Virginia, to the subversive stimulation of French Revolutionary propaganda, which had been raised to a pitch by the black rebellion in San Domingo under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture. The first passage, to which we will return, is comparable to the second in its attribution of African-American desires for liberty and equality to the effects of outside agitation. It is possibly more modern in its language, but, if anything, is less...

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