Blacks in Eden: The African American Novel’s First Century by J. Lee Greene (review)

Blacks in Eden: The African American Novel's First Century by J. Lee Greene (University Press of Virginia, 1996)

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Blacks in Eden: The African American Novel’s First Century by J. Lee Greene (review)

by John Leland
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 4: The South in the World

University Press of Virginia, 1996

Lee Greene’s Blacks in Eden rebuts Thomas Jefferson’s remark about the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, the eighteenth-century black poet: “The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.” Greene, who has written a biography of Anne Spencer and numerous articles on African American writers, argues that blacks consciously subverted the Anglo-American myth of an edenic America in “a hidden polemic against Jeffersonian ideology.” Successive chapters review black novelists’ attempts to write true American history in response to the various incarnations of this white myth: America as earthly paradise or civil utopia, the southern plantation idyll, and the American Dream itself.