Middlebury

 

Black enclaves on Chicago’s South and West sides

William R. Nash, American Studies and English and American Lit

I am currently engaged in researching the interplay among the history of how the black enclaves on Chicago’s South and West sides developed, the written policies and unwritten traditions that set the boundaries for that development, and black artists’ creative responses to this growth. I frame this study as a consideration of how artists from a particular community creatively shape the transformation of physical spaces into emotionally and symbolically charged places. What little work has been done on this subject has focused narrowly on a single type of Chicago space, the black ghetto, and privileged one conception of that environment. Richard Wright’s portrayal of South Side Chicago conditions in his seminal Native Son (1940) largely defines public conceptions of black life in Chicago and black art from Chicago. While Wright is indisputably a central figure in Black Chicago’s literary history, the tendency to view the city’s entire African-American post-1940 literary corpus through the lens of his work delimits Black Chicago much more narrowly than the complexity of its neighborhoods and the prominence of its middle class require. One of my major goals in pursuing this project is to articulate a more complete portrait of the city’s multi-layered black community and to read Chicago's black literary corpus more completely.