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  • Prospects, Volume 28
  • October 2004, pp. 519-542

Dying to Be Black: White-to-Black Racial Passing in Chesnutt's “Mars Jeems's Nightmare,” Griffin's Black Like Me, and Van Peebles's Watermelon Man


Is racial passing passé? Not according to contemporary book sales. The theme remains central to at least three recent best sellers: Danzy Senna's Caucasia, Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, and Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Roth's novel made it to the big screen this fall, just as Devil in a Blues Dress, the adaptation of Walter Mosley's novel starring Denzel Washington, did in 1995. Renewed academic attention is being paid, of late, to “classic” passing narratives; once-ignored ones, including Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars, are being revived; and still others being reread in the context of passing.

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Gayle Wald 's Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in 20th Century American Literature and Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000)

Elaine Ginsberg 's Passing and the Fictions of Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996)

Lome Fienberg 's “Charles W. Chesnutt and Uncle Julius: Black Storytellers at the Crossroads,” Studies in American Fiction 15, no. 2 (Autumn 1987): 161–73

Paul Petrie , “Charles W Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman, and the Racial Limits of Literary Meditation,” Studies in American Fiction 27, no. 2 (Autumn 1999): 183–85

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  • ISSN: 0361-2333
  • EISSN: 1471-6399
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