The second book by Associate Professor of English Daylanne English,
Each Hour Redeem: Time and Justice in African American Literature, will be published this spring by University of Minnesota Press. Of her publisher English says, “I am very proud of them and their support for cutting-edge work.” Each Hour Redeem expands on the conversation that English began in her first book, Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, which centered on anti-lynching dramas, domestic melodramas, trauma, and eugenics in African American literature of the 1920s. “When I finished the last chapter of my last book,” English says, “I just felt that there was more to say.”
In Each Hour Redeem, English takes the reader on an exploration of time in African American literature, both past and present. “The representation of time has been an ever-present part of African American literature,” English explains, “and this book looks at that.”
While researching this project, English noticed something intriguing in the contemporary work of some African American writers: a recent revival of detective fiction novels, reimagined in a modern environment. Old-style detective and crime fiction novels are now being set in neighborhoods such as Watts (Los Angeles) by writers like Walter Mosley.
The detective novel originally arose from the disparities of the Great Depression. English sees the genre now being used in a new way, coining the term “Strategic Anachronism” to describe the way in which the genre is being used today. Strategic anachronism is the revival of an old literary form, such as the detective novel, in order to comment on the contemporary recurrence of events, or the stasis of an environment and culture. This device allows the writer to comment on a lack of progress or racial justice.
In Each Hour Redeem, English examines this technique in relation to African American detective novels, as well as other genres. She also explores examples of “Strategic Presentism,” the art of inventing new forms of expression to comment on present-day issues. Strategic presentism, she says, is often used during a time of progress in the African American community. For example, the Black arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s can be directly linked with the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the same era,
Teaching at a small liberal arts school like Macalester has allowed her to write a book on such a broad topic, says English. “If I didn’t have those ten years teaching at a high level, teaching the whole spectrum of African American literature, this book wouldn’t have happened.”