Sutton E. Griggs and the African American Literary Tradition of Pamphleteering

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This dissertation argues that pamphlets have been neglected as a literary antecedent to the novel by scholars of African American literature. The dissertation focuses in particular on a narrative tradition of black uplift philosophy in early African American pamphlets published between the Revolutionary and antebellum eras, and argues that this tradition established a form of quasi-novelistic discourse that had a significant influence on Sutton E. Griggs, turn-of-the-century African American novelist and pamphleteer. I contend that the pamphlet was one of, if not the, most important genres of political and literary representation for early African American writers. By pointing to different ways of reading Griggs and positioning his works in African American literary history, the dissertation works to correct what I see as a misapprehension of the author’s legacy by the editors of the recent critical volume, Jim Crow, Literature, and the Legacy of Sutton E. Griggs. I tell a new story about this legacy that begins by looking back to late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century black pamphleteering and the rise of the African American novel in order to get a better understanding of Griggs’s literary activism from 1899 to 1923.