Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 September 2022) | Viewed by 15470

Special Issue Editor

*
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA
Interests: African American literature and culture; Black Feminist literature and culture; sound studies; listening; pedagogy
* Nicole Brittingham Furlonge is a Professor and Director of the Klingenstein Center, Columbia University. She is the author of Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature (UIowa, 2018).

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Humanities invites entries that employ sound-focused approaches to African American literary works, multimedia creations, events, and performances, and that explore connections between the fields of African American Literature and Culture and Sound Studies. This Special Issue aims to: (1) convene a critical conversation between existing and new approaches to the theory and practice of sound study in the field of African American Literature and Culture; and (2) to frame, through theoretical, practical, creative, and speculative scholarly contributions, the development of new and transformative convergences between these two resonant fields.

African American and Black Feminist literary and cultural studies feature a robust and sustained critical and creative engagement with sound. This body of criticism has examined how sound and voice have been represented in works of different genres, modalities, and periods. Increasingly, scholars are exploring the themes of listening and hearing at the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality—both on and off the page. Some more recent additions to this area of scholarship include the works of Alexander Weheliye (Phonographies, 2005), Kevin Quashie (The Sovereignty of Quiet, 2012), Tsitsi Jaji (Africa in Stereo, 2013), Emily Lordi (Black Resonance, 2013), Carter Mathes (Imagine the Sound, 2015), Jennifer Stoever (The Sonic Color Line, 2016), Nicole Brittingham Furlonge (Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature, 2018), Daphne Brooks (Liner Notes for the Revolution, 2021), and Anthony Reed (Soundworks, 2021), among many others.

Works submitted for this Special Issue might build upon or depart from earlier critical approaches, and turn to sonic figures such as listening, hearing, frequencies, deafness, noise, quiet, sonic vibrations, amplification, sampling, frequencies, sound technologies (radio, phonograph, microphones, turntables, beat boxes, tape recorders, video, mp3), and their representation in cultural texts on and off the page. Some examples of questions scholars might consider include:

  • What does African American literary history sound like?
  • What does it mean to listen to, for, or in literary contexts?
  • What possibilities and challenges do sonic features bring to the work of literary analysis? To the work of speculation?
  • How does Blackness and intersectionality sound in sound studies?
  • How does the sonic literary archive speak to or challenge the print canon?
  • How does the sonic literary archive suggest alternate African American literary histories?
  • How does the sonic literary archive reveal previously muted literary voices and communities within the tradition of African American literature?
  • What can the sound-infused study of African American literature and culture bring to sound studies—and vice versa?
  • What can literary and sound practitioners and artists, and literary and sound theorists learn from each other?
  • How might teaching African American literature with or through sound and listening alter or inform literary pedagogy?

Submissions may take the form of scholarly articles, speculative pieces, theoretical forays, historical accounts, multimodal pieces, detailed case studies, also examinations of cinematic, performed, and choreographed texts, or other critical forms that seem most suitable to the author's purpose.

Please submit an abstract (250–500 words) and a bio (50 words, along with a short CV) by June 30, 2022 to: [email protected]. If the abstract is accepted, full essay drafts of 5000–6000 words will be due on September 15, 2022. Articles will then undergo external peer review prior to final acceptance and publication as part of the Special Issue. New, emerging, and independent scholars are encouraged to submit materials.

The editor is excited to learn about your work, and to work with you in developing it further should it be a good fit for this Special Issue.

Dr. Nicole Brittingham Furlonge
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sound
  • listening
  • hearing
  • sonic technologies
  • vibrations
  • frequencies
  • amplification
  • Blackness
  • Black Feminist
  • multimodal
  • sonic speculation
  • sonic Afrofuturism

Published Papers (8 papers)

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16 pages, 245 KiB  
Article
Sounding Grief in Henry Dumas’s “Echo Tree”
by Timothy Pantoja
Humanities 2024, 13(2), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/h13020062 - 7 Apr 2024
Viewed by 814
Abstract
“Sounding Grief in Henry Dumas’s ‘Echo Tree’” engages Dumas’s experimental short story about two youths discussing how to speak to the dead while on a Southern hillside at dusk. This article studies how this short story meditates on how grief affects our engagement [...] Read more.
“Sounding Grief in Henry Dumas’s ‘Echo Tree’” engages Dumas’s experimental short story about two youths discussing how to speak to the dead while on a Southern hillside at dusk. This article studies how this short story meditates on how grief affects our engagement with and reliance upon voiced languages to express a desire for communion that persists beyond death. “Echo Tree”, the article argues, reveals how openness to grief, and the subsequent desire for communication with the dead, improves the imaginative capacity needed for empathetic alignment among the living. In its presentation of the psychological and imaginative difficulties of performing a call-and-response with the dead, “Echo Tree” also analogizes how a reader engages in an act of call-and-response with a muted acousmatic voice from the printed page. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
12 pages, 262 KiB  
Article
Jazzthetic Technique: Oralizing Fiction and Jazz Strategies in Toni Morrison’s Jazz
by Trivius Gerard Caldwell
Humanities 2023, 12(4), 79; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12040079 - 8 Aug 2023
Viewed by 2515
Abstract
Toni Morrison represents the improvisations of life in the 1920s and posits her novel Jazz as a work that negotiates sound as a distinguishing characteristic of her writing genre. Many critics have described Morrison’s approach as a Jazzthetic strategy and as such, her [...] Read more.
Toni Morrison represents the improvisations of life in the 1920s and posits her novel Jazz as a work that negotiates sound as a distinguishing characteristic of her writing genre. Many critics have described Morrison’s approach as a Jazzthetic strategy and as such, her rhetorical move enables a renovation of traditional aspects of the novel to render life as complex as a jazz composition itself. This article analyzes Morison’s methods and posits the use of jazz strategies to mimic the displacement, fragmentation, and strife experienced by African Americans during the Great Migration. This essay also intervenes in the debate between the relationship of language and music to examine the ways that Morrison oralizes fiction and engages in a form of cultural circularity, thereby asserting the authenticity of jazz alongside the tension of the Great Migration. Additionally, this essay explains the ways that Morrison makes clear the implications of migrant cultural expression in service of identity formation, suggesting that the micro-novels in the novel Jazz are contributors to a larger ensemble that functions epistemologically to render the African American experience as central to American identity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
10 pages, 243 KiB  
Article
Black Noise from the Break: Ma and Pa’s Black Radical Lyricism
by Julia Reade
Humanities 2023, 12(2), 35; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12020035 - 19 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1395
Abstract
Kendrick Lamar’s 2022 track “We Cry Together” is, if nothing else, a masterful piece of wordplay and rhythm. Lamar manages to create a lyrical conversation that sounds both dialectical and diametric. Both the song and album are a definitive break from his earlier [...] Read more.
Kendrick Lamar’s 2022 track “We Cry Together” is, if nothing else, a masterful piece of wordplay and rhythm. Lamar manages to create a lyrical conversation that sounds both dialectical and diametric. Both the song and album are a definitive break from his earlier tenor that struck a mass appeal. A private conversation between two people, “We Cry Together”, insofar as it captures the intimate interiority of a couple, is also a break within the album itself. Textual renderings of Black performances cut away in ways similar to Lamar’s song or the soloist in a jazz ensemble, their breaks signifying sound. Invoking as aural praxis the language of jazz musicology and Black lyrical theory of Fred Moten, this article closely reads chapter four in George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin as one such special representation of textual aurality. First, it identifies multiple manifestations of “the break” before probing the deeply conflicted concept of Black noise as the racialized, resistant, resilient, and resonant octave of radical Black performance. A lyrical improvisation of a Black noise defiant in its indeterminacy, Ma and Pa’s duet cuts away from Castle’s polyphonic ensemble, creating the break within a break, within a break. Lingering in the cut, listening as Fred Moten, Douglas Kearney, Ren Ellis Neyra, and Zadie Smith encourage, the article arrives at a euphonic reproduction as induction into a legacy of synesthetic, lyrical, radical Black noise. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
11 pages, 263 KiB  
Article
Civil War Song in Black and White: Print and the Representation of the Spirituals
by Jeremy Dwight Wells
Humanities 2022, 11(6), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11060142 - 11 Nov 2022
Viewed by 1288
Abstract
This article explores how White writers wrote about African American spirituals during and after the Civil War. While these writers tended to view Black speech as deficient, they were willing to regard Black musical expression as simply different, paving the way for its [...] Read more.
This article explores how White writers wrote about African American spirituals during and after the Civil War. While these writers tended to view Black speech as deficient, they were willing to regard Black musical expression as simply different, paving the way for its eventual nationalization as “American music”. Noting that White writers were not in the habit of admitting the inadequacies of their preferred modes of representation, the article concludes that the print representation of the spirituals contributed to a transformation of what was meant by the word “American”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
11 pages, 276 KiB  
Article
“Befo’ de Wah”: Sounding Out Ill-Legibility in Charles W. Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories
by Cameron MacDonald
Humanities 2022, 11(6), 137; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11060137 - 31 Oct 2022
Viewed by 1528
Abstract
In 1969, blues guitarist Earl Hooker released Two Bugs and a Roach, solidifying him as a pioneer of the wah-wah technique. Before the wah-wah pedal, however, there was Charles W. Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories, a collection of frame narratives that recollect plantation [...] Read more.
In 1969, blues guitarist Earl Hooker released Two Bugs and a Roach, solidifying him as a pioneer of the wah-wah technique. Before the wah-wah pedal, however, there was Charles W. Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories, a collection of frame narratives that recollect plantation life “befo’ de wah”. In this essay, I insist the slide, slip, and compressions of Hooker’s wah-wah voicings find resonance in Chesnutt’s own linguistic play, through which the sonics of Julius’ sociolect texture the text towards speculative spellings, grammars, and meanings that query the logics of white, Enlightenment rationality and its hegemonic conceptions of space, time, value, and subjecthood. In listening to the tales’ resonances with the “wah”, I suggest Chesnutt articulates the “ill-legibility” of plantation existence and its echoes into and out from the present, as evidenced by Hooker’s own disproportionate susceptibility to and lifelong struggle with tuberculosis. In doing so, Julius’ storytelling makes legible modes of survival that attune to how Black bodies persist via the (un)sound logics of illness, slavery, and sonority. Overall, I argue Chesnutt amplifies modes of existence that emerge from the distinct spatio-temporality of the plantation, thus re-forming with and through the ills of slavery and persisting against rational legibility, capital production, and normativity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
13 pages, 705 KiB  
Article
Subterranean Sound, Expatriation, and the Metaphor of Home: A Fictional Descent with Richard Wright
by Robin E. Preiss
Humanities 2022, 11(5), 128; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11050128 - 18 Oct 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1874
Abstract
In 2021, the unexpurgated second novel of American author Richard Wright was at last unearthed from the depths of the archive. In a vivid demonstration of the affective capacity of written sound, The Man Who Lived Underground tells the story of a man [...] Read more.
In 2021, the unexpurgated second novel of American author Richard Wright was at last unearthed from the depths of the archive. In a vivid demonstration of the affective capacity of written sound, The Man Who Lived Underground tells the story of a man who finds an unlikely refuge from imminent death in the sewer beneath the city streets. This article listens closely to Wright’s portrayal of architectural acoustics and sonic distortion within the text, attending to sensory and metaphorical dimensions of urban and social stratification. Drawing on Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s co-conceived “fantasy in the hold”, I push back against the overwhelmingly dystopian readings of Wrights subterranean as a scene of racialized subjection. Their “undercommons” allows me to reframe the undercity as a site of refusal and a source of collective empowerment. Returning to Wright himself, I connect the subterranean metaphor to deeper biographical themes of intellectual exile and his eventual expatriation to Europe. In a gesture redolent of the undercommons, he followed his character in locating a quality of freedom underground. I read this autonomous inversion of the Middle Passage—the lateral motion of the middle crossing—as comparable to the vertical mobility that frames the events and stakes of the story. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
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10 pages, 244 KiB  
Article
“Miles Is a Mode; Coltrane Is, Power”: Notes on John Coltrane as Poetic Muse and Michael Harper’s “Alone” in Songlines in Michaeltree (2000)
by James Mellis
Humanities 2022, 11(5), 115; https://doi.org/10.3390/h11050115 - 9 Sep 2022
Viewed by 1797
Abstract
This article looks at the ways jazz legend John Coltrane was a muse for many Black Arts era poets and proceeds to discuss how Michael Harper rendered Coltrane in his work, focusing on editorial changes between the 1970 and 2000 versions of Michael [...] Read more.
This article looks at the ways jazz legend John Coltrane was a muse for many Black Arts era poets and proceeds to discuss how Michael Harper rendered Coltrane in his work, focusing on editorial changes between the 1970 and 2000 versions of Michael Harper’s poem, “Alone”. In it, the author argues that the change marks a revision of the centrality of Coltrane as Harper’s muse from his early to later career. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)

Other

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11 pages, 248 KiB  
Essay
Sounding War: Subverting Jim Crow in Not Only War and Sula
by Candice Marie Fairchild
Humanities 2023, 12(3), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/h12030051 - 16 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1068
Abstract
A sound-studies-centered reading of Victor Daly’s Not Only War: A Story of Two Great Conflicts (1932) and Toni Morrison’s Sula (1973) sheds light on the sonic realities of WWI, both before and after, for Black soldiers. Both novels, set during and after WWI, [...] Read more.
A sound-studies-centered reading of Victor Daly’s Not Only War: A Story of Two Great Conflicts (1932) and Toni Morrison’s Sula (1973) sheds light on the sonic realities of WWI, both before and after, for Black soldiers. Both novels, set during and after WWI, utilize music to subvert the codified system of Jim Crow through sonic resistance. The term generative entropy offers a theoretical intervention in the field of sound studies to enable a better understanding and identification of the emphasis both novels place on narrative possibility rooted in sonic and physical spaces of ambiguity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sound Studies in African American Literature and Culture)
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