In this book, Shelly Eversley historicizes the demand for racial authenticity - what Zora Neale Hurston called 'the real Negro' - in twentieth-century American literature. Eversley argues that the modern emergence of the interest in 'the real Negro' transforms the question of what race an author belongs into a question of what it takes to belong to that race. Consequently, Paul Laurence Dunbar's Negro dialect poems were prized in the first part of the century because - written by a black man - they were not 'imitation' black, while the dialect performances by Zora Neale Hurston were celebrated because, written by a 'real' black, they were not 'imitation' white. The second half of the century, in its dismissal of material segregation, sanctions a notion of black racial meaning as internal and psychological and thus promotes a version of black racial 'truth' as invisible and interior, yet fixed within a stable conception of difference. The Real Negro foregrounds how investments in black racial specificity illuminate the dynamic terms that define what makes a text and a person 'black', while it also reveals how 'blackness', spoken and authentic, guards a more fragile, because unspoken, commitment to the purity and primacy of 'whiteness' as a stable, uncontested ideal.
Shelly Eversley, an Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, writes on 20th Century African American Literature, race, gender and sexuality theory. She has two forthcoming books, Integration and Its Discontents and Race and Sex: Theorizations of Literature, Culture and Desire (edited with Robert F. Reid-Pharr).