Black History Month Spotlight: ‘Dreams for Dead Bodies’

by Kasie Pleiness on February 4, 2016

Throughout February, the University of Michigan Press will be featuring several titles for Black History Month.

In Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction, M. Michelle Robinson offers new arguments about the origins of detective fiction in the United States, tracing the lineage of the genre back to unexpected texts and uncovering how authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, and Rudolph Fisher made use of the genre’s puzzle-elements to explore the shifting dynamics of race and labor in America. According to Robinson, the narrative elements necessary to any good crime plot—murder, money, and sex—are woven into class and race relations. “Detective fiction’s narrative-analytical tools—the stimulating elements of the clue-puzzle—generate self-referential discourse whose most basic effect is to dramatize how social knowledge becomes accessible via narrative.” Robinson constructs an interracial genealogy of detective fiction in order to create a nuanced picture of the ways that black and white authors appropriated and cultivated literary conventions at the turn of the twentieth century.

Although Robinson is primarily focused on the inventory of detection’s narrative tools, she also acknowledges recent developments in the study of the detective genre that have “resuscitated critical attention to the infusion of gothic, supernatural, pseudoscientific, and surreal elements.”

Dreams for Dead Bodies is available February 2016. Receive 30% off your purchase with discount code UMBHM16.

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