Keith D. Leonard F'19

Keith D. Leonard
Associate Professor
Literature
American University

ACLS Fellowship Program 2019
Associate Professor
Literature
American University
Black Avant-Gardism

This project characterizes as black avant-gardism the practices through which African American writers from three writers’ collectives formed since the 1960s paradoxically fulfilled the black nationalist call for independent black institutions and literary self-determination by garnering mainstream recognition. It complicates the binaries of accommodation versus revolution in black radical thought by adapting theories of social and aesthetic revolt in the avant-garde that are usually understood only as Anglo-American literary movements. These black artistic communities, it argues, represent blackness in a way that relies upon avant-garde aesthetic estrangement and resists the appropriation and accommodation implied in their work’s accolades, specifically by enacting in literary form and image how blackness always exceeds the frames in which it is represented. The project traces how these collectives cultivate the aesthetics of this estrangement through their sociality, empowering writers to build innovative, dissident artistry and successful careers by portraying how features of black cultural life resist representation.