The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium
The Souls of Mixed Folk examines representations of mixed race in literature and the arts that redefine new millennial aesthetics and politics. Focusing on black-white mixes, Elam analyzes expressive works--novels, drama, graphic narrative, late-night television, art installations--as artistic rejoinders to the perception that post-Civil Rights politics are bereft and post-Black art is apolitical. Reorienting attention to the cultural invention of mixed race from the social sciences to the humanities, Elam considers the creative work of Lezley Saar, Aaron McGruder, Nate Creekmore, Danzy Senna, Colson Whitehead, Emily Raboteau, Carl Hancock Rux, and Dave Chappelle. All these writers and artists address mixed race as both an aesthetic challenge and a social concern, and together, they gesture toward a poetics of social justice for the "mulatto millennium."
The Souls of Mixed Folk seeks a middle way between competing hagiographic and apocalyptic impulses in mixed race scholarship, between those who proselytize mixed race as the great hallelujah to the "race problem" and those who can only hear the alarmist bells of civil rights destruction. Both approaches can obscure some of the more critically astute engagements with new millennial iterations of mixed race by the multi-generic cohort of contemporary writers, artists, and performers discussed in this book. The Souls of Mixed Folk offers case studies of their creative work in an effort to expand the contemporary idiom about mixed race in the so-called post-race moment, asking how might new millennial expressive forms suggest an aesthetics of mixed race? And how might such an aesthetics productively reimagine the relations between race, art, and social equity in the twenty-first century?
About the Author
Michele Elam is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Humanities in the English Department at Stanford University, a Faculty Associate Director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence https://hai.stanford.edu and a Race & Technology Affiliate at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity https://ccsre.stanford.edu/race-technology-initiative. She is affiliated with African & African American Studies, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Wu Tsai Neuroscience Institute.
Elam’s research in interdisciplinary humanities connects literature and the social sciences in order to examine changing cultural interpretations of gender and race. Her work is informed by the understanding that racial perception and identification in particular impacts outcomes for health, wealth and social justice. More recently, her scholarship examines intersections of race, technology and the arts. “Race Making in the Age of AI,” her most recent book project, considers how the humanities and arts function as key crucibles through which to frame and address urgent social questions about equity and social justice in socially transformative technologies. Her undergraduate interdisciplinary courses, "AI + Arts + Activism," and "Black Mirror: Representing Race & Gender in AI" represent efforts to introduce these issues early in students' careers at Stanford.
Elam’s books include Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium (Stanford University Press, 2011), and The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (Cambridge University Press, 2015). She has published widely on race and culture including articles in PMLA, African American Review, American Literature, Theatre Journal, Genre, Daedelus: The Journal of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in edited volumes such as Feminist AI. Her op-eds appear in CNN, Huffington Post, and Boston Review. She was awarded the 2018 Darwin T. Turner Award for Outstanding Scholarship by the African American Literature and Culture Society.
At Stanford, she has served as the Director of the interdisciplinary graduate Program in Modern Thought and Literature (MTL), the Director of African & African American Studies, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the English Department. Nationally, Elam has served as Chair of the Executive Committee for the Black Literatures & Culture Division of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and on the Executive Council for the American Literature Society at MLA. She is currently on the Advisory Boards of Stanford’s Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, and serves on the Director’s Council for the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the d.school). She is a faculty affiliate of the Wu Tsai Neuroscience Institute.
Dedicated to teaching, Elam has been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Gores Award, the University's highest teaching honor. She is also thrice the recipient of the St Clair Drake Outstanding Teaching Award at Stanford (2004, 2006, 2015) and has twice received the Faculty Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Students as a Teacher, Advisor and Mentor from the Program in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity (2013, 2018), among her other teaching awards.
Undergraduate and graduate seminars include:
- Arts + AI + Activism
- Black Mirror: Representing Race & Gender in AI
- The Harlem Renaissance
- James Baldwin & American Culture
- Got Genius? W.E.B. Du Bois
- Toni Morrison & the Occasion of Feminism
- Gender Studies for the 21st Century
- Mixed Race Politics & Culture
- Mixed Race in the U.S & South Africa
- Narratives of Enslavement & Theories of Redress