Race Sounds

The Art of Listening in African American Literature


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2018
206 pages, 2 b&w photos, 6 x 9 inches
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$85.00
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9781609385613
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9781609385620

Race Sounds is a provocative and innovative meditation on listening as an interpretive, creative, and civic act that is foundational to twentieth and twenty-first century African American literature and American political culture. Furlonge’s book wrestles with our most treasured writers in order to reveal how listening is both an African American literary trope and actual communal practice that provides a deeper, more intimate engagement with racial difference. Furlonge persuasively and beautifully argues that these writers demand that their audiences read, borrowing from jazz lexicon, with ‘big ears,’ and create a new, more democratic world of readers and citizens in the process.”—Salamishah Tillet, author, Sites of Slavery 

“This book is the most sophisticated and subtle treatment of listening to the sonic dimension in African American literature we have. The profound relation of music to text in the black tradition is brought to life in a persuasive and powerful manner. Furlonge has made a major contribution to our understanding of black humanism.”—Cornel West, author, Race Matters 

“At a time when the American body politic has devolved into a set of repellant polarities, in which the disdain for voices that offer alternative ways to embody citizenship operates at a fever pitch, Race Sounds endeavors to challenge the assumption that acts of reading involve the attenuation of sound. The project’s most insistent aim is to fashion a line of inquiry that seeks to alter our understanding of African American literary production as a process of mere inscription by insisting that reading is a simultaneously visual and sonic practice.”—Herman Beavers, University of Pennsylvania 

We live in a world of talk. Yet Race Sounds argues that we need to listen more—not just hear things, but actively listen—particularly in relation to how we engage race, gender, and class differences. Forging new ideas about the relationship between race and sound, Furlonge explores how black artists—including well-known figures such as writers Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston, and singers Bettye LaVette and Aretha Franklin, among others—imagine listening. Drawing from a multimedia archive, Furlonge examines how many of the texts call on readers to “listen in print.” In the process, she gives us a new way to read and interpret these canonical, aurally inflected texts, and demonstrates how listening allows us to engage with the sonic lives of difference as readers, thinkers, and citizens. 

Intervening in discourses of African American and black feminist literatures, where sound and voice dominate, Furlonge shifts our attention to listening as an aural strategy of cultural, social, and civic engagement that not only enlivens how we read, write, and critique texts, but also informs how we might be more effective audiences for each other and against injustice in our midst. The result is a fascinating examination that brings new insights to African American literature and art, American literature, democratic philosophy, and sound studies.