cover image Rediscovering Frank Yerby: Critical Essays

Rediscovering Frank Yerby: Critical Essays

Edited by Matthew Teutsch. Univ. Press of Mississippi, $30 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4968-2783-8

Teutsch debuts with an informative series of essays on the place of novelist Frank Yerby (1916–1991) in the African-American literary canon. Believing that critically acclaimed, socially engaged black writers such as James Baldwin were merely “preaching to the converted,” Yerby concentrated on mass-appeal entertainments full of adventure and melodrama, thereby selling, according to contributor John Wharton Lowe, over 60 million copies of his books throughout his career. As essayist Donna-lyn Washington notes in her entry, Langston Hughes and other critics accused Yerby of never straying from his commercial formula, and were particularly dismayed by the lesser roles given to black characters in most of his works. The essayists succeed in complicating this picture by finding a deeper engagement with racial themes in Yerby’s lesser-known short stories and in the margins of his popular historical novels, and overtly political themes in later works such as Speak Now and The Dahomean. Teutsch also observes that, despite Yerby’s disavowal of any political message, he also once asserted that “I was trying to get to the bigots... and I actually received letters that indicated” that he changed racist readers’ minds. This collection makes for an effective introduction to a now comparatively little-known author, and a strong case for a greater literary significance than has typically been accorded him. (May)