Creating the Norm: The African-American Literary Tradition

Open access


This paper starts from the premise that norm, in the sense of a prescriptive tradition based on a set of standards deriving from past practices and regulating future ones, is the result of an initial creative gesture; in other words, first there was creativity and creativity became the norm. Based on this premise, the paper looks at some of the earliest African-American pieces of writing to trace the itinerary from creativity to norm, thus witnessing the birth of the African-American literary tradition. To this end, the paper analyses the first published Black narrative and identifies the trope of the talking book as illustrating that original gesture which, by creatively incorporating the norm, marks the beginning of a new tradition. Then the paper follows subsequent early Black narratives and identifies the creative transgression of the norm illustrated by the Middle Passage as the process by which the new norm is established.

Appiah, Anthony. “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race.” “Race”, Writing and Difference. Henry Louis Gates, Jr (ed.). Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 1985. Print.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Signs Taken for Wonders”. The Post-colonial Studies Reader.

Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (eds.). London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. 1995. Print.

Bolster, W. Jeffrey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1997. Print.

Campbell, James. Middle Passages. African-American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005. New York: The Penguin Press. 2006. Print

Cuffee, Paul. A Brief Account of the Settlement and Present Situation of the Colony of Sierra Leone, in Africa (1812). Boston: Beacon Press.1971. Print.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. Vol. I. London: 1789. Web. 1 Sept. 2012. ‹› Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrock. “Mobility in Chains: Freedom of Movement in the Early Black Atlantic”. The South Atlantic Quarterly 100, 1 (2001). 41-59.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Biddles Ltd.. 2002. Print.

Gronniosaw, James Albert Ukawsaw. A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince. Bath Printed: Newport, Rhode-Island: Reprinted and sold by S. Southwick, in Queen Street, 1774. Electronic Text Center. University of Virginia Library, 1995. Web. 1 Sept. 2012. ‹›

Totten, Gary. “Southernizing Travel in the Black Atlantic: Booker T. Washington's The Man Farthest Down.” MELUS 32, 2 (2007). 107-131. Print

Washington, Booker T. The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe (1912). With Robert E. Park. Garden City New York: Doubleday Page and Company, 1913. Questia. Web. 1 Sept. 2012. ‹›


The Journal of Linguaculture Centre for (Inter)cultural and (Inter)lingual Research, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 90 90 6
PDF Downloads 47 47 3