Cover image for We wear the mask : African Americans write American literature, 1760-1870
We wear the mask : African Americans write American literature, 1760-1870
Zafar, Rafia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
xi, 249 pages ; 23 cm
Introduction: of masks, mimicry, and invisibility - Sable patriots and modern Egyptians: Phillis Wheatley, Joel Barlow, and Ann Eliza Bleecker -- Capturing the captivity: African Americans among the Puritans -- Enslaving the saved: the narratives of Henry Bibb and William Wells Brown -- "It is natural to believe in great men." -- The blackwoman in the attic -- Dressing up and dressing down: Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the scenes at the White House and Eliza Potter's A hairdresser's experience in high life -- Conclusion: the beginning of African American literature.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS153.N5 Z34 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Uncovers the strategies early African American writers used both to create an African American identity and to make their visions and stories accessible to white readers. Alongside these pioneers of black American literature Zafar juxtaposes some familiar European American Writers. Beginning with Phillis Wheatley's implicit engagements with other colonial era poets, and ending with the ultimately tragic success story of Elizabeth Keckley, ex-slave, seamstress, and confidante to a First Lady, black authors employed virtually every dominant literary genre while cannily manipulating the nature of their presence.

Author Notes

Rafia Zafar is professor of English and African and African American Studies,Washington Univerisity in St. Louis.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Zafar (Univ. of Michigan) borrows Paul Laurence Dunbar's theatrical metaphor of the mask to describe eloquently the way African American writers negotiated with, if not performed for, a largely white reading audience from Colonial times to Reconstruction. Asking what makes a writer, or a text, black, the author reads African American texts alongside those of selected European American contemporaries to illuminate the African identity within an American framework. She explores the ways African American writers absorbed prevailing white genres and literary paradigms in order to reach a wider readership, thus seeking "to define how to read comprehensively these 'whitefaced' literary acts, without overprivileging the imitated genres and while contemplating the inescapably limited nature of early black writers' success." Zafar is largely successful in her endeavor, although her detailed readings of white texts do not always seem relevant to the discussion of African American texts. She has read widely, and she discusses black captivity narratives alongside Mary Rowlandson's. Her strongest chapters look at Benjamin Franklin's self-made narrative in comparison to Frederick Douglass's, and at Harriet Jacobs's and Harriet Wilson's twists on domesticity in light of the era's defining novel, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Recommended for all academic collections. D. J. Rosenthal Case Western Reserve University