Was Huck Black? by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
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Was Huck Black?
By Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Was Huck Black?

Mark Twain and African-American Voices

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Format: Paperback

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Was Huck Black? by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Book Description

Published in 1884, Huckleberry Finn has become one of the msot widely taught novels in American curricula. But where did it come from, and what made it so distinctive? Shelley Fisher Fishkin suggests that in Huckleberry Finn, more than any other work, Mark Twain let African-American voices, language, and rhetorical traditions play a major role in the creation of his art. In Was Huck Black? Fishkin combines close readings of published and unpublished writing by Twain with intensive biographical and historical research and insights gleaned from linguistics, literary theory, and folklore to shed new light on the role African-American voices played in the genesis of Huckleberry Finn. Given that book's importance in American culture, her analysis illuminates, as well, how African-American voices have shaped our sense of what is distinctively "American" about American literature. American literary historians have told a largely segregated story: white writers come from white literary ancestors, black writers from black ones. The truth is more complicated and more interesting. While African-American culture shaped Huckleberry Finn, that novel, in turn, helped shape African-American writing in the twentieth century. As Ralph Ellison commented in an interview with Fishkin, Twain "made it possible for many of us to find our own voices." Was Huck Black? dramatizes the crucial role of black voices in Twain's art, and takes the first steps beyond traditional cultural boundaries to unveil an American literary heritage that is infinitely richer and more complex than we had thoguht.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780195089141
ISBN-10: 0195089146
Format: Paperback
(204mm x 136mm x 14mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 30-Jun-1994
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions...

Books By Author Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Writing America by Shelley Fisher Fishkin Writing America, Hardback (November 2015)

American novelist E.L. Doctorow once observed that literature "endows places with meaning." Yet, as this wide-ranging new book vividly illustrates, understanding the places that shaped American writers' lives and their art can provide deep insight into what makes their literature truly meaningful.

Mark Twain's Book of Animals by Shelley Fisher Fishkin Mark Twain's Book of Animals, Paperback (June 2011)

Longtime admirers of Mark Twain are aware of how integral animals were to his work as a writer, from his first stories through his final years, including many pieces that were left unpublished at his death. This title, illustrated with 30 images, gathers writings from the full span of Mark Twain's career.

Oxford Mark Twain by Shelley Fisher Fishkin Oxford Mark Twain, Paperback (February 2010)

Presents facsimile first editions of Twain's works that include all original illustrations. Each volume contains introductions by literary heavyweights including Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Cynthia Ozick, Gore Vidal, George Plimpton, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Walter Mosley, among others.

Feminist Engagements by Shelley Fisher Fishkin Feminist Engagements, Hardback (April 2009)

This book offers historically-grounded, feminist interventions into American literary history by one of the country s leading scholarsof American Studies. "

» View all books by Shelley Fisher Fishkin


US Kirkus Review » Direct, brief, well-informed, and polemical ("How will Americans respond to the news that Huck...was part black?"), Fishkin (American Studies/University of Texas, Austin) provides a questionable but dramatic genealogy of Huckleberry Finn's African-American ancestors as a gesture toward "desegregating" American literary history. Inspired by David Bradley's 1985 lecture, "The First 'Nigger' Novel," Fishkin argues that the prototypical American literary hero in what major writers have considered the archetypal American novel was based on a black child named Sociable Jimmy; that Twain's language ("raised to a level of literary eloquence," as Ralph Ellison said in 1970) is derived from African-American voices; and that his satirical social style was inspired by a black boy named Jerry whom he knew while still a child. But although Twain enjoyed black culture enough to appropriate it for his writings, he repressed the sources because, Fishkin says, he wanted to be respectable - and in the age of p.e. (of which this study is a monumental example), that makes Twain a hypocrite, a character-type that he himself found particularly contemptuous. To prove that an imaginary hero in a work of art (or even a popular commercial novel, as Huckleberry Finn was originally conceived) is multiracial, multicultural, even androgynous, would be to explain his perennial appeal. But Fishkin treats the novel and its lead character as a social commentary or textbook, referring often to its presentation in the classroom and shaping her argument for literary critics. Isolating Huck's African-American traits - some based on stereotypes, others uncovered through sophisticated linguistic analysis - seems to create its own form of segregation, to oversimplify a complex literary character, and to compromise the universality to which a wide range of authors (whom Fishkin quotes) have paid tribute - authors such as Ellison, Faulkner, Hemingway, Toni Morrison, and others, who claim to have learned their language and acquired their voices from Twain. In spite of the confused motives: an exhaustive and provocative work, already creating a stir. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of the award-winning book From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America. Her essays and reviews on American literature, American Studies, and issues of race and gender have appeared in publications including The New York Times, American Literature, American Literary History, and the Journal of American History. Professor Fishkin, who has lectured on her work in England, Israel, Europe, Mexico, and across the United States, was a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, 1992-1993.

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