Sabine Isabell Engwer has been a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies since the fall of 2012. Her dissertation project focuses on African American literature from the “Nadir” period.
The Nadir spans the era from the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s to the early years of the twentieth century. This period was characterized by a severe backlash against the newly-freed African American population, the institutionalized racism of the “Jim Crow laws,” and a significant rise in lynchings in the South of the United States.
For African American writers at the time, this climate of repression led to a decidedly political agenda for their literary work. The battle for equality, political enfranchisement, and against the ubiquitous racism they experienced, informed their writing significantly. Black authors dealt with the political realities of the Nadir in a number of ways – literary reactions ranged from the disillusioned portrayal of racism in Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901), to Sutton Grigg’s bold suggestion of a separate African American nation within the United States in Imperium in Imperio (1899). A central component of this project will be the analysis of the oeuvre of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930), a leading African American journalist, editor and novelist, and one of the few influential black women writers of the Nadir, whose phantasmatic novel Of One Blood (1903) even has its African American protagonist come to political power as the long-awaited king of a mythical subterranean civilization in Ethiopia.
The dissertation will critically examine these and other African American texts of the period in their historical context, in order to come to a deeper understanding of their underlying political agendas and the Nadir’s prevalent notions of “folk,” “nation” and “nationality” at large.