Imaginary Escapes: Fugitive Identity in African American Literature

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Since the antebellum period, the fugitive has been one of the most consistent figures in African American literature. This study explores the descendants of this figure, focusing on representations of the black fugitive that have emerged in late post-civil rights literature by African American authors. Each author creates a fugitive writer-protagonist who, unable to produce a racial identity narrative to suit his or her experience, abandons traditional literary genres and reading practices--such as the written poem, slave narrative, autobiography, bildungsroman, and academic literary criticism--in favor of performance, interactive reading, speculative autobiography, and hybrid forms of scholarship. Ultimately, fugitive protagonists represent the author's own negotiations of racial identity in the post-civil rights period while connecting the authors to the most foundational aspects of the African American literary tradition.