New Books in African American Studies interviews Erica Edwards

By Sherry Johnson

edwards_charisma coverPicture the familiar scene:  the visiting pastor thanks the local pastor for granting him the use of his pulpit; he sends out the call (“Can I just speak with you this morning?”) and the congregation responds (“Yessir!  Amen!”).  The disclaimer follows:  he is only the vessel through which the Lord will speak.  Should he say something with which one disagrees take it up with the Lord.  He pats his brow, grips the podium; throws away his notes, transitions to improvisation; cadenced speech follows, and the congregation responds in kind.  Erica R. Edwards describes the aforementioned as the charismatic scene in Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).  The new author probes charismatic leadership and its interventions found in literature written by African Americans throughout the 20th century.

The fundamental questions Edwards, assistant professor of English at the University of California, Riverside asks are:  What is the seduction of charismatic leadership?  And, how does it shape 20th century African American literary productions?  The rise of white supremacy coupled with sharecropping as a system of peonage made emancipation essentially a non-event. In the face of domestic terrorism singular, male leadership became a necessary survival strategy.  Still, there is apparent dissonance; reverence for the black male leader in African American culture does not translate to the literature.

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