Rampersad: Interest grows in black bios
Arnold Rampersad, a Stanford University professor, spoke Tuesday on African-American biographies at the first lecture of the Joseph M. Duffy Lecture Series.
Only in the past century have any full-scale African-American biographies appeared, Rampersad said. Beginning modestly with Franklin Douglas as the subject of most biographies, there is now an "unprecedented interest in the black man," he said.
The main challenge of African-American biographies is to "find the African-American life interesting in its complexities and normalcy."
Rampersad explored what makes an authentic African-American biography? He also asked, can only an African-American justly portray the life of another African-American?
It is the equation of a good biography: keeping an identificational and judgemental distance from this mix of social science and art will ultimately deem authenticity, Rampersad said.
Biographies are a "lesser form of history," Rampersad said, because they are a mysterious mix of "both social science and art."
History in university life has a vested interest in black culture, and hopefully the viewpoint is changing alongside this community. It was only after World War II that biographies of African-Americans were even presented, and even then it was only because African-Americans have a "freedom to choose a life and write about it," said Rampersad.
The public was not interested in black America until Jackie Robinson became MVP in the National League. Robinson, according to Rampersad, led the way to modern culture's own fascination with African-American athletes and entertainers such as Muhammed Ali, Tina Turner and Michael Jordan.
With the biggest challenge of African-American biographies being to "find the African-American life interesting in its complexities and normalcy," Rampersad, every generation "needs to reexamine the past and write their own biographies."
All News Stories for Wednesday, September 15, 1999