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Black Heart

The Moral Life of Recent African American Letters


Phillip M. Richards

Black Heart is a provocative and polemical critique of African American literary studies at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Through a series of sharp and insightful essays on a wide range of critical thinkers, Phillip M. Richards traces what he sees as an erosion of moral reflection in African American literary culture – a process that has left contemporary black academic criticism socially, politically, and culturally hollow. Exploring the work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Michael Dyson, Karla Holloway and others, Black Heart sets forth the rhetorical strategies of present-day African American critical writing, and probes the ethical dimensions of its institutional life in the academy, the media, and the public sphere. Richards undertakes to recover the procedures by which cultural and moral value may be recovered for black literary culture and to establish the possibilities for a new humanism in African American writing and literary culture.

«The essays gathered here offer an insightful and unsparing analysis of the shortcomings and possibilities of contemporary African American literary and cultural criticism. Richards wields his broad and deep understanding of the American and African American literary history with admirable dexterity as he assesses the critical voices that have shaped African American literary and cultural study over the last two decades. Rarely does a critic explore the links between literary criticism and social class with the care and rigor that Richards displays here. Richards’s readings come from a distinct point of view but are never predictable and pretentious. One learns from Richards even on those occasions when one disagrees with him.» (Kenneth Warren, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, The University of Chicago)