Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership

Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership

Erica R. Edwards

How a preoccupation with charismatic leadership in African American culture has influenced literature from World War I to the present

288 Pages, 6 x 9 in



Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership

Series: Difference Incorporated

Erica R. Edwards

ISBN: 9780816675463

Publication date: January 24th, 2012

288 Pages

8 x 5

"In Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership, Erica R. Edwards has constructed a radical re-imagining of black political culture and an alternative narrative of its historical emergence. By critically examining the myths of charismatic leaders as the singular progenitors of liberation, Edwards takes issue with the representations of the black freedom movement most frequently rehearsed by biographers, social historians, and political scholars of the modern era. The book is a powerful recapturing of lost words, lost worlds." —Cedric J. Robinson, University of California, Santa Barbara

"A critical read for anyone who is interested in the relationship between literature and real life scenes of black leadership—particularly as it plays out in the black political sphere in the post-civil rights era."—New Books Network

"An insightful text in which Erica R. Edwards successfully presents an alternative perspective on black political leadership through an analysis of black literature and film, with the potential to offer alternative social realities for the African American community."—The Journal of African American History

"An impressive, field-changing interdisciplinary study."—American Literature

Social and political change is impossible in the absence of gifted male charismatic leadership—this is the fiction that shaped African American culture throughout the twentieth century. If we understand this, Erica R. Edwards tells us, we will better appreciate the dramatic variations within both the modern black freedom struggle and the black literary tradition.

By considering leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama as both historical personages and narrative inventions of contemporary American culture, Edwards brings to the study of black politics the tools of intertextual narrative analysis as well as deconstruction and close reading. Examining a number of literary restagings of black leadership in African American fiction by W. E. B. Du Bois, George Schuyler, Zora Neale Hurston, William Melvin Kelley, Paul Beatty, and Toni Morrison, Edwards demonstrates how African American literature has contested charisma as a structuring fiction of modern black politics.

Though recent scholarship has challenged top-down accounts of historical change, the presumption that history is made by gifted men continues to hold sway in American letters and life. This may be, Edwards shows us, because while charisma is a transformative historical phenomenon, it carries an even stronger seductive narrative power that obscures the people and methods that have created social and political shifts.

Erica R. Edwards is assistant professor of English at the University of California, Riverside.


I. Charisma
1. Restaging the Charismatic Scenario: Fictions of African American Leadership
2. Leadership's Looks: The Aesthetics of Black Political Modernity
II. Contestations
3. Moses, Monster of the Mountain: Gendered Violence in Zora Neale Hurston's Gothic
4. Disappearing the Leader: The Vanishing Spectacle in Civil Rights Fiction
III. Curiosities
5. "Cyanide in the Kool-Aid": Black Politics and Popular Culture After Civil Rights
6. Claim Ticket Lost: Toni Morrison's Paradise and American Literature's Holy Hollow