Lucas A. Dietrich. Writing Across the Color Line: U.S. Print Culture and the Rise of Ethnic Literature, 1877–1920. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2020. Paper, 199 p. $26.95. ISBN: 978-1-62534-487-8.

Alison Fraser


Dietrich’s Writing Across the Color Line is one of the most recent titles from the University of Massachusetts Press’ Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book series. Employing archival research to historicize the first major period of publication of “ethnic authors [by] well-known trade publishers” (3), Writing Across the Color Line explores the networks between publisher and book, editor and author, and critic and reviewer. In five case studies presented across four chapters, Dietrich argues that the authors he discusses used their national platform to subvert stereotypes and racist uses of realism, regionalism, caricature, dialect, and other literary devices through satire, metacriticism, paratext, and direct critique. As Dietrich explains, these writers were engaged in antiracist writing, seeking to challenge the latent and overt racism of a national audience of white readers. Dietrich’s conclusion, while unsurprising, is disappointing: despite the efforts of these authors and their editors and presses, white readers rejected the antiracist content of these books by either misinterpreting them or by refusing the purchase the books. Still, Dietrich argues provocatively, in a period where there had been no national conversation about antiracism published by major trade publishers, even rejection was a significant step forward. Writing Across the Color Line is an important contribution to the ongoing scholarly conversation around race, publishing, and archives.

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