F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

William J. Maxwell. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-691-13020-0
At 1,884 pages, James Baldwin’s FBI file is the fattest among the “51 files on individual African-American authors and critics active during the Hoover years, 1919 to 1972” scrutinized in this bold, provocative study. Maxwell (New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars) uses the documents to probe the FBI’s “institutionalized fascination” with black authors like Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka. Other writers treated here in depth include Claude McKay (“the earliest Afro-modernist author to impress his way into his own FBI file”), Richard Wright, John Williams, and Lorraine Hansberry, but going by this account, few, if any, working African-American writers entirely slipped past the FBI’s gaze during Hoover’s tenure. Maxwell weaves a complex narrative tapestry, incorporating the life stories of both Hoover and the FBI, as well as WWII-era harassment of the black press, the impact of McCarthyism, and the “utility of New Critical close reading” to FBI agents required to practice an unlikely kind of literary criticism in the pursuit of “subversives.” Scholars will find this densely written work a powerful take on African-American literature. Maxwell’s passion for the subject spills onto every page of his detailed, persuasive documentation that “the FBI [was] an institution tightly knit (not consensually) to African-American literature.” (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/10/2014
Release date: 01/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-4008-5206-2
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-691-17341-2
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