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About The Negro in Illinois

"Brian Dolinar's new book, The Negro in Illinois: The WPA Papers, was released this summer, and if the title sounds dated it's because the book began its long road to publication in the late 1930s but was sidelined by two formidable obstacles - World War II and a rejection letter," Dawn Turner Trice writes in the Tribune.

"How Dolinar came to complete the book is a story of a nearly decade-long effort to do justice to work started by a team of more than 100 African-American writers hired to document black life and history for one of President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration programs.

"To recreate the manuscript, Dolinar searched for missing chapters across several states and painstakingly sifted through more than 10,000 pages of documents typed on cheap paper that at one point had been disintegrating.

"Some of the original writers, such as Richard Wright, would go on to great acclaim. And because many of them were novelists and poets, their writing style wasn't at all dry but literary as they wrote about a variety of issues and people, including entertainers like Louis Armstrong; a young Nation of Islam; President Abraham Lincoln's Haitian-born barber; and an entrepreneur whose chicken shack later would be featured in Wright's Native Son."



"Brian Dolinar is a scholar of African American literature and culture from the Depression era. He is the author of The Black Cultural Front: Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation (2012), published by the University Press of Mississippi, and editor of The Negro in Illinois (2013), published by the University of Illinois Press.

"His articles have appeared in Langston Hughes Review, Southern Quarterly, and Studies in American Humor.

"He has taught a variety of classes in ethnic studies, education, U.S. history, composition, and literature.

"In Spring 2012, he taught a class on the Black Chicago Renaissance in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For this class, he made the list of excellent teachers, compiled by the university from student evaluations."



"For decades, scholars and enthusiasts of the Black Midwest have lamented the abortive end to the WPA's The Negro in Illinois project, the most ambitious New Deal study of African-American life and history. Now this treasure can enjoy the wide readership it always deserved.

"Working with the Harsh Research Collection and other archives across the country, editor Brian Dolinar has located all 29 chapters of the original survey, written by the cream of the Chicago Renaissance generation, and he has supplemented their work with illuminating and helpful annotation.

"The result is equal parts epic, elegy and captivating ledger of the contributions and circumstances of African Americans in Illinois, from frontier and slavery days to the emergence of the Black Metropolis.

"This volume is testament to the extraordinary capacities of African Americans in Chicago and Illinois, and to how their story encapsulates that of a nation."

- Adam Green, University of Chicago


Q&A with Dolinar.


Upcoming appearance.


Comments welcome.


Posted on September 9, 2013

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