Los Angeles and the African-American literary imagination

Charles Scruggs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


“The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.” G. K. Chesterton, The Defendant (1901) /No generalization about the African-American writers of Los Angeles can do justice to the rich variety of their perspectives upon their city, but they do tend to focus on two interrelated themes: its utopian promise of beauty, ease, riches, even fame, and the possibility of racial violence whose eruption is as unpredictable as the region’s earthquakes. Los Angeles is “full of surprises,” as Bebe Moore Campbell said. The racial past that ruptures without warning the delicate world of “settled things” is a recurrent theme. The African-American aphorism “quiet as it’s kept,” used by detective fiction writer Paula Woods in Stormy Weather (2001), implies that a secret not kept is no longer quiet. The promise of safety is carried in images of community like Gary Phillips’s “three B’s” - “beauty shops, barber shops, and barbecues” - or it is claimed as the fundamental rights to liberty and justice in a city that for most of its history has given blacks little of either. The struggle to turn urban space into livable places produces a condition diagnosed by Wanda Coleman in the title of her 1996 collection of essays; the black Angeleno is a Native in a Strange Land. The most dramatic example of this condition may occur in Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel Kindred (1979). Butler’s protagonist, Dana, is repeatedly thrust from the present into the historical past of 1815-30 Maryland and back, so that the familiar becomes strange, the strange familiar.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002899
ISBN (Print)9780521514705
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Los Angeles and the African-American literary imagination'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this