"In this persuasive and well-documented study of the social and historical forces shaping the development of self, Petesch located the origins of modern Black literature in the nineteenth-century texts of black Americans, especially slave narratives, which differed remarkably from the literature of the dominant white culture."—Journal of Modern Literature
"[An] ambitious exploration of the emergence of modern African-American literature, in a climate of national racial hostility. Petesch's primary focus is the treatment, by writers of color, of the African-American 'self,' in its historical and its social contexts. Divided into two parts, A Spy in the Enemy's Country is a painstaking study, integrating historical scholarship with literary developments."—Studies in the Humanities
"A valuable study of the complex relationship between the literary production of major writers from the 1850s to the 1920s, on one hand, and the prevailing ideology, steeped in racism, those writers had to contend with…Taking into account recent developments in the social sciences, the author offers an eminently readable account of a literature of masking, racial ambivalence, and, in some cases, disappearance."—Michel J. Fabre
"Petesch's account of the emergence of modern black literature is the most thoughtful and persuasive that I have read, and I am particularly struck by his ability to integrate the best of historical scholarship in his study of literary developments. The whole book seems to me strikingly original and intelligent."—David Herbert Donald
"Petesch cogently argues that no other major literature has had such an unusual beginning. This work will be valuable for students of black literature and for students of history and cultural diversity."—Choice
"The discussion of late nineteenth-century racist iconography is especially informative to those interested in historicizing the idealized character portrayals of black fiction writers at the turn of the century."—American Studies International
This dynamic study provides a rich intellectual and historical background for understanding the works of black American writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with a look at early slave narratives, Donald Petesch examines how these writings reflect the conditions imposed upon their authors and goes on to explore the shifting and often contradictory black/white consciousness that was emerging in the twentieth century. Moving into the Harlem Renaissance, Petesch considers the implications of the historical and social contexts for a number of black authors.
This closely focused look at a group of writers who represent both the emergence of modern black literature and the Harlem Renaissance, coupled with the keen examination of the historical and social conditions that shaped them, will be valuable reading for all students of black literature and history, intellectual history, and popular culture.