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Other titles in the Cultural Studies of the United States series:
Slippery Characters: Ethnic Impersonators and American Identities (Cultural Studies of the United States)by Laura Browder
Synopses & Reviews
In the 1920s, black janitor Sylvester Long reinvented himself as Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, and Elizabeth Stern, the native-born daughter of a German Lutheran and a Welsh Baptist, authored the immigrant's narrative I Am a Woman—and a Jew; in the 1990s, Asa Carter, George Wallace's former speechwriter, produced the fake Cherokee autobiography, The Education of Little Tree. While striking, these examples of what Laura Browder calls ethnic impersonator autobiographies are by no means singular. Over the past 150 years, a number of American authors have left behind unwanted identities by writing themselves into new ethnicities.
Significantly, notes Browder, these ersatz autobiographies have tended to appear at flashpoints in American history: in the decades before the Civil War, when immigration laws and laws regarding Native Americans were changing in the 1920s, and during the civil rights era, for example. Examining the creation and reception of such works from the 1830s through the 1990s—against a background ranging from the abolition movement and Wild West shows to more recent controversies surrounding blackface performance and jazz music—Browder uncovers their surprising influence in shaping American notions of identity.
[A] thorough and intelligent study of a uniquely American literary tradition.
Spectator Slippery Characters is a splendid book.
James Olney, editor of Southern Review Browder's focus on ethnic impersonations is fresh and revealing.
Miles Orvell, Temple University
Examining the creation and reception of ethnic impersonator autobiographies from the 1830s through the 1990s, Browder uncovers their surprising influence in shaping American notions of identity.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Slave Narratives and the Problem of Authenticity
Chapter 2. Staged Ethnicities: Laying the Groundwork for Ethnic Impersonator Autobiographies
Chapter 3. Writing American: California Novels of Brown People and White Nationhood
Chapter 4. One Hundred Percent American: How a Slave, a Janitor, and a Former Klansman Escaped Racial Categories by Becoming Indians
Chapter 5. The Immigrant's Answer to Horatio Alger
Chapter 6. Passing As Poor: Class Imposture in Depression America
Chapter 7. Postwar Blackface: How Middle-Class White Americans Became Authentic through Blackness
Chapter 8. To Pass Is To Survive: Danny Santiago's Famous All Over Town
Conclusion. Rewriting the Ethnic Autobiography
Buffalo Bill Cody meets with Native Americans
Participants in the Wild West shows
Lillian Smith as "The Califronia Girl"
Lillian Smith as Wenona
Ramona's marriage place
Jackie Oakie as Jim Beckwourth
Sylvester Long as Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance
Scene from My Man Godfrey
Illustration from a how-to book for hoboes
Scene from Sullivan's Travels
Grace Halsell's 1969 odyssey into blackness
C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man
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