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Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860–1930

About the Author

Michele Elam

Michele Elam is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Humanities in the English Department at Stanford University and an Associate Director of the Insittute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence https://hai.stanford.edu/news/hai-welcomes-new-associate-directors

Elam’s research in interdisciplinary humanities connects literature with the social sciences in order to examine changing cultural interpretations of gender and race. Her work is informed by the understanding that racial perception in particular impacts outcomes for health, wealth and social justice. “Making Race in the Age of AI,” her...

Cambridge University Press
2003

Race, Work and Desire analyses literary representations of work relationships across the colour-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Michele Birnbaum examines inter-racial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence by black and white authors and artists - including Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, W. D. Howells, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, Amy Spingarn and Carl Van Vechten - exploring the way servants and employers, doctors and patients, and patrons and artists negotiate their racial differences for artistic and political ends. Situating these relationships in literary and cultural context, Birnbaum argues that the literature reveals the complexity of cross-racial relations in the workplace, which, although often represented as an oasis of racial harmony, is in fact the very site where race politics are most fiercely engaged. This study productively complicates current debates about cross-racial collaboration in American literary and race studies, and will be of interest to scholars in both literary and cultural studies.