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AMHERST, Mass.—Dale Peterson, professor of English and Russian at Amherst College, has just published Up from Bondage: The Literatures of Russian and African American Soul ($18.95 paper, 240 pp., Duke University Press, Durham), the first study to consider the evolution of Russian and African-American cultural nationalism in literature.
Peterson examines analogous moments in the formation of Russian and African-American uniqueness, and also explores the rather surprising affinities between African American and Russian thinkers and writers. He argues that many Russian writers and thinkers also experienced the “double consciousness” described by W. E. B. DuBois as an African-American phenomenon, while the creative response of African-American cultural theorists to the thought of Mikhail Bakhtin is only the most recent instance of a rich history of mutual awareness and artistic resemblance.
Up from Bondage has particular relevance for today’s globalized culture. “The Russian and African-American experiments in developing a supple literary articulation of ‘soul’ and in imprinting cultural ‘otherness’ within the forms legitimated by Western letters and philosophy offer valuable precedents for our increasingly decentered and diversified world of disunited nationalities,” Peterson writes. “Nationalists,” says Peterson, “might finally heed the call to a proud hybridity that Dostoevsky and DuBois issued to their people more than a century ago.”
Up From Bondage deals with writers as diverse as Turgenev, Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Maxim Gorky, Richard Wright and Gloria Naylor. The book also compares and contrasts the “New Negro” movement of the Harlem Renaissance with the Russian “Eurasianists” of the 1920’s.
Dale Peterson, who studied history and literature at Harvard and earned a Ph.D. in American Studies and an M.A. in Russian Studies at Yale University, has taught at Amherst College since 1968.