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Sunday, January 20, 2013

A "powerhouse of a book"; an "intervention of the highest order"

I'm honored that Douglas A. Jones, a rising star in theatre and performance studies (and, like me, the recipient of an MA in Theatre History, Theory, and Criticism from the University of Maryland), has reviewed Racial Innocence for The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. Several years ago, Doug delivered one of the best papers I'd ever heard at a conference of the American Studies Association. Since that time, I've watched Doug's career with admiration. I'd happily read anything Doug publishes--and what an uncommon delight that what he has published, this week, is a review of my book. And what a review it is:

“A timely and exemplary contribution to the historiography of racial formation in the United States, Robin Bernstein’s Racial Innocence is an intervention of the highest order. The success of this meticulously researched and carefully argued book rests on two interrelated achievements: the development of a groundbreaking theory and its application toward highly revelatory ends. . . . [W]hat ultimately emerges in Racial Innocence is a historiographic framing that positions children as central actors, literally so, in American economic, political, and social projects. Bernstein writes, ‘Because the culture of childhood so often retains and repurposes that which has elsewhere become abject or abandoned, the study of childhood radically challenges many established historical periodizations’ (7). This is just one of the many invaluable lessons from this powerhouse of a book. Richly illustrated with stunning color plates and a bounty of black-and-white images, Racial Innocence will quickly become a cornerstone text in many fields, ranging from critical race theory and performance studies to American cultural history and childhood studies.” Douglas A. Jones, The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 27.1 (Fall 2012): 143-146.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Remarkably impressive.... Bernstein surprises us with fractures that we know."

Sometimes a review takes your breath away. Kathryn Bond Stockton's, which just came out in Modern Drama, is one such review of Racial Innocence.

The review begins:

So much depends upon dolls in pain. Do they feel their beatings at the hands of children? What’s at stake in thinking a doll can feel distress?

This is a drama. The liquid idea or crystallized tactility of such a possible sensation for a doll, for a black doll – the sense that it could recoil, with tenderness or sorrow, if you were to hit it – tells us volumes about the race of childhood, from the time of slavery up to Civil Rights. Childhood, which enthrones innocence, which shapes race (and rights that start in childhood), hangs upon pain – doll pain, in part. Expertly, persuasively, and often brilliantly, Bernstein tells us why.

With her inventiveness, thoroughness, and carefulness always in evidence, always remarkably impressive and required, always surfacing in apt formulations, she makes her focus on dolls indispensable to grasping racial cruelty in the nineteenth century and even beyond. That is to say, in this conspicuously well-researched study, Bernstein surprises us with fractures that we know. Pain as a possible, meaningful sensation – a feeling we attribute to others, even dolls – marks specific borders, especially between enslaved and free, but also between childhood innocence and something like juvenile inuredness to hurt. Who feels suffering and so needs shielding from it? Who, in other words, has racial innocence, a sensitivity to possible harm? Children rehearse these relations with their dolls. And adults rehearse them by watching children play – and by watching dramas or reading certain novels that induce beliefs surrounding human pain.

I want to include all of the review, but I can't for copyright reasons. It's on Project Muse, for those of you who have access to that database.

Kathryn Bond Stockton is the author of three books, including, most recently, The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century and Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where "Black" Meets "Queer"--books I admire keenly. I'm honored that Kathryn Bond Stockton reviewed my book, and I deeply appreciate this lyrical, compelling engagement.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Third Printing

Racial Innocence has gone into its third printing! After the first printing on December 1, 2011, the book returned for its second run in February 2012. Now, in January 2013, NYU Press has sent the book back for a third print run. I've been told that Racial Innocence is the top seller among all books in the American Literatures Initiative, an alliance of five publishers that have come together, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to publish and publicize first books in the humanities.

The great sales figures are due, first and foremost, to the skill and energy of the terrific folks at NYU Press and the ALI. They're also due to all the professors who've assigned my book in classes--large and small, undergraduate and graduate, in colleges and universities. In the past year, Racial Innocence has been assigned in classes at Boston College, the George Washington University, Harvard, Kansas State University, Middlebury College, New York University, Northwestern, Princeton, Rutgers University-Camden, Stanford, Tufts, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Riverside, the University of Florida, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of South Carolina, the University of Texas at Austin, Washington University in St. Louis, Williams College, and Yale (if you know of another place where Racial Innocence is being taught, please let me know!).

The range of these courses has been amazing: from African American Studies (“Black Visual Cultures” and “The Archive, Minstrelsy and American Literature”) to theatre and performance studies (“Critical Approaches to Theatre and Performance”) to the history and literature of childhood (“Age in American Literature and Culture” and “Bad Boys & Wayward Girls: The Social Control of Problem Youth”). I'm especially proud that the book has been assigned in graduate-level, foundational methods courses in African American Studies and in theatre/performance studies and in American Studies.

I'm also grateful that the book has been reviewed widely. So far, reviews have appeared in American Quarterly, Children’s Literature, Choice, Cultural Studies, Girlhood Studies, International Research in Children’s Literature, the Journal of American Culture, the Journal of Popular Culture, The Lion and the Unicorn, and Modern Drama. Reviews are slated to appear in Callaloo, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, e-misfĂ©rica, H-SHGAPE (Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era), the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Legacy, MELUS, Partial Answers, Theatre History Studies, Theatre Journal, and Theatre Survey (again, if you know of more, please let me know).

Many thanks to the bloggers who've spread the word about my book, especially Philip Nel, Perry Nodelman, and Michelle McCrary (who not only blogged about the book but also interviewed me on her radio show, and then listed our interview among her favorites of 2012). And of course, thanks to the members of the book award committees at the American Studies Association, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the New England American Studies Association, and the Society for the Study of American Women Writers, all of which honored my book.

When I was writing Racial Innocence, I wanted one thing above all: I wanted people to read it. I'm so grateful to the individuals--too numerous to list here!--who have spread the word about this book and thus enabled it to find its way into the hands of readers. To all the scholars who've reviewed the book, professors who've assigned it, bloggers who've written about it, award committees that have honored it, NYU Press and ALI folks who've promoted it, and most of all, readers who've read it--thank you for making 2012 such a successful year for Racial Innocence.