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F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's…
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F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American…

by William J. Maxwell

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Everyone’s a critic

F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature by William J. Maxwell (Princeton University Press, $29.95)

Apparently, J. Edgar Hoover and his minions were obsessed with African American writers like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright. Who knew the G-men had such excellent taste in literature?

But William J. Maxwell’s F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature illustrates—with ample documentation—how very comprehensive FBI interest in the work of African American writers was, including close readings worthy of graduate degrees among the agents assigned. But the long game involved creating simulacra of black literature to undermine the power of the literary legacy American blacks had produced, as well as influencing and directing the reception of African American literature among white readers.

What’s more, this comprehensive volume also addresses the ongoing program of harassment aimed at the black press, as well as energy exerted to prevent the publication of some works.

Anyone who (still, after Tuskegee) wonders why African Americans are so skeptical of the government need only read this to understand the lengths to which some elements would go to diminish the stature of black accomplishment.

This is a fascinating piece of history, dense and scholarly, but with powerful contemporary ramifications: How do we know that they’ve stopped?

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | Feb 13, 2015 |
"F.B. Eyes is structured around five interrelated theses that together argue for a state of antagonistic cooperation between the bureau and African-American literature."

"Maxwell’s most provocative contention is that the FBI’s largely white and unknown ghostreaders acted collectively as perhaps black authors’ "most dedicated and influential forgotten critic."

"F.B. Eyes is scintillating scholarship; for those invested in the literary and extra-literary lives of African-American authors it holds all the intrigue of a pulp spy novel."
added by jodi | editThe Chronicle of Higher Education, Adam Bradley (pay site) (Feb 15, 2015)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691130205, Hardcover)

Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover's white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI's hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau's intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem's renaissance and Hoover's career at the Bureau, secretive FBI "ghostreaders" monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover's death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau's close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.

Taking his title from Richard Wright's poem "The FB Eye Blues," Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau's paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover's ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets. For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.

Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -0400)

"Few institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover's white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI's hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files, F.B. Eyes exposes the Bureau's intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem's renaissance and Hoover's career at the Bureau, secretive FBI "ghostreaders" monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover's death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau's close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as William J. Maxwell reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century. Taking his title from Richard Wright's poem "The FB Eye Blues," Maxwell details how the FBI threatened the international travels of African American writers and prepared to jail dozens of them in times of national emergency. All the same, he shows that the Bureau's paranoid style could prompt insightful criticism from Hoover's ghostreaders and creative replies from their literary targets. For authors such as Claude McKay, James Baldwin, and Sonia Sanchez, the suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship. Illuminating both the serious harms of state surveillance and the ways in which imaginative writing can withstand and exploit it, F.B. Eyes is a groundbreaking account of a long-hidden dimension of African American literature."-- Publisher description.… (more)

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