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With The Tempest’s Caliban, Shakespeare created an archetype in the modern era depicting black men as slaves and savages who threaten civilization. As contemporary black male fiction writers have tried to free their subjects and themselves from this legacy to tell a story of liberation, they often unconsciously retell the story, making their heroes into modern-day Calibans.

Coleman analyzes the modern and postmodern novels of John Edgar Wideman, Clarence Major, Charles Johnson, William Melvin Kelley, Trey Ellis, David Bradley, and Wesley Brown. He traces the Caliban legacy to early literary influences, primarily Ralph Ellison, and then deftly demonstrates its contemporary manifestations. This engaging study challenges those who argue for the liberating possibilities of the postmodern narrative, as Coleman reveals the pervasiveness and influence of Calibanic discourse.

At the heart of James Coleman’s study is the perceived history of the black male in Western culture and the traditional racist stereotypes indigenous to the language. Calibanic discourse, Coleman argues, so deeply and subconsciously influences the texts of black male writers that they are unable to cast off the oppression inherent in this discourse. Coleman wants to change the perception of black male writers’ struggle with oppression by showing that it is their special struggle with language. Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban is the first book to analyze a substantial body of black male fiction from a central perspective.

James W. Coleman, professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Blackness and Modernism: The Literary Career of John Edgar Wideman.

"Few can come away from their reading of Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban unchanged. Some will come unhinged. Coleman’s work is a challenge to what we think we know of postmodernity, of African American writing, or male texts."—Aldon Lynn Nielsen

"One of the few studies devoted to contemporary black male fiction."—Choice

"One of the first books devoted to the contemporary fiction of African American men and seeks to broaden and complicate our understanding of black masculinity."—South Atlantic Review

"Coleman offers compelling, original analyses of a body of frequently overlooked and critically neglected works. That many of the works are by some of the best known black male writers of our time simply underscores the timeliness of Coleman’s study."—Southern Literary Journal

"The quality of this book far exceeds the platitudes that we normally reserve for the very best work in the field: Phenomenal? Yes. Engaging? Quite. Seminal? For certain. Distinguished? Very possibly the most distinguished work on this subject to have come forth this century."—Warren Carson

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






African American authors, Postmodernism, Caliban, African Americans in literature, African American literature, African American men


Comparative Literature

Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban
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