Black History Month: “The Great Negro Plot”

matjohnson.jpgThis is a new book, probably the newest one that will be highlighted this month as part of Black History Month, but the book by Mat Johnson, who teaches at Bard College, fits in well with the African-American literary tradition, namely in that it, according to Publishers Weekly:

convincingly re-creates New York City’s stratified colonial society in 1741, while reinterpreting the only historical account of the rumored slave revolt, hysteria and kangaroo trial that led to the executions of many black New Yorkers. (The uprising was also chronicled in Jill Lepore’s New York Burning.) Narrated by a modern-day black man who acts as defense attorney for the executed, this account painstakingly refutes Daniel Horsmanden’s 1744 book, The New York Conspiracy, in which the trial’s judge, prosecutor and court recorder sought to justify the jailing of about 160 Africans, the hanging of 18 and the burning of 13 more at the stake. Johnson’s strength is his ability to breathe movement and motivation into Horsmanden’s witnesses, though trotting out one intimidated witness after another bogs down the latter half of the narrative.

You can hear an interview with Mat Johnson on NPR. This is from the NPR Web site:

In 1741, Manhattan’s white elite lived in constant fear of a race revolt. When the homes of several prominent New Yorkers mysteriously burned, nearly half of Manhattan’s male slaves were jailed, and dozens had been hanged or burned alive. Author Mat Johnson recounts the tragic events of 1741 in his book The Great Negro Plot.

And you should also check out his Web site here. Of note is Johnson’s blog and his “Ladies and Lords of the Niggerati,” which is here, and which he describes as follows:

the term was coined by either Zora Neale Hurston or Wallace Thurman during the 1930s Harlem Renaissance (I tend to think it was Thurman’s, it’s more his style). It sarcastically described the then new breed of black literati storming American letters. While tongue-in-cheek, the word managed to take a slur and make it regal, using it to describe a new caste of Talented Tenth meritocrats. It is both self-effacing and self-aggrandizing, an in-group word that only one ethnic group can comfortably speak aloud. But that just adds to its exclusivity.

Over the next few months, it is my intent to create a listing, by era, of those Lords of the Niggerati that have made the African American literary dialogue such a rich one. If you are looking for encyclopedia entries, go elsewhere. These will be love songs.

So far, there’s nothing in his list, but maybe some of the authors and writings included on this blog could help.

This blog has highlighted:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
Gwendolyn Brooks
August Wilson
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Nothup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
Langston Hughes
“Cane” by Jean Toomer


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