The Princess Steel
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
In his 1926 essay “criteria of negro art,” W. E. B. Du Bois famously argued that “all art is propaganda and ever must be” (296). Du Bois's reputation as a fiction writer has long suffered because of his unwavering commitment to the propagandistic function of art. The Harlem Renaissance writer Wallace Thurman's 1928 claim that “the artist in him has been stifled in order that the propagandist may survive” (219) would be echoed for decades by critics who continued to view Du Bois's fiction as overly didactic, “insignificant and pallid” (Rigsby i), and bafflingly eccentric. Recently scholars have begun to reverse this disparagement while excavating how Du Bois used fiction to test out and amplify his developing philosophical and sociological positions over the many decades of his career. Du Bois's fantasy story “The Princess Steel,” published for the first time here, provides another opportunity to consider Du Bois as a writer of fiction as well as an enthusiastic reader of genre fiction. This addition to the growing archive of Du Bois's fiction illuminates his use of speculative romance to explain not only the pitfalls of industrial capitalism but also the romantic possibilities of social revolution.
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