The American Protest Essay and National Belonging

Addressing Division

By Brian Norman

Subjects: American Literature, African American Studies, American Studies, Feminist, Literary Criticism
Paperback : 9780791472361, 232 pages, October 2007
Hardcover : 9780791472354, 232 pages, October 2007

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Concerning Division: Allegiance, Renunciation, and National Belonging

1. Toward an American Protest Essay Tradition

2. New Declarations of Independence: Three Feminist Re-visions of a Founding Document

3. The Addressed and the Redressed: Helen Hunt Jackson’s Protest Essay and the Protest Novel Tradition

4. The Art of Political Advocacy: James Baldwin, American Protest Essayist

5. Identity Politics, Collective Futures, and the Cross-Essay Conversations of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker

6. June Jordan and Transnational American Protest

Why the Essay?

Printings of the Combahee River Collective, A Black Feminist Statement (April 1977)


Explores the role of the literary protest essay in addressing social divisions in the United States.


The American Protest Essay and National Belonging uncovers a rich tradition of essays by writers who also serve as spokespersons for American social movements throughout the nation's history. Brian Norman demonstrates that the American protest essay is a distinct form that draws from both the European-born personal essay and American political oratory anchored in social movements. He places celebrated twentieth-century writers like James Baldwin, Vine Deloria Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois, Emma Goldman, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Thomas Pynchon, Adrienne Rich, Gore Vidal, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright among many others in a tradition dating back to the nation's founding. Drawing on feminist and multicultural studies and movements, Norman explains how the protest essay brings particular experiences of exclusion into direct conversation with beliefs in universal equality to offer a story of national belonging that is able to address, rather than repress, division.

Brian Norman is Assistant Professor of English at Loyola College in Maryland.


"With such an ambitious agenda, Norman's book is, from the beginning, an exercise in prolepsis: its project is so rich that it must inevitably stand as a foundation for many books to come." — Callaloo

"…a useful addition to our discussions on literary theory, rhetorical analysis, and social movement studies." — SIGNS

"In a welcome project that identifies and explores an important aesthetic and political tradition of American prose, Brian Norman examines an impressive variety of essays that grapple with what is perhaps the most fundamental contradiction of American history … Students and scholars of American Studies, literature, history, and politics will be well served by his attention to the rhetorical stance afforded by the essay form; one hopes that students and scholars will be inspired to return to both the original texts and the animating spirit of this tradition." — Prose Studies

"…the first book of its kind, heralding a new era in the field of protest studies … Norman's analysis will change how we think about the relationship between art and protest … [and] change how we understand the essay form itself, how we define a national literary tradition, and how we approach writers who are not usually celebrated as practitioners of the essay." — Journal for the Study of Radicalism

"The authors that Brian Norman studies in The American Protest Essay and National Belonging have the courage to denounce failed promises of social inclusion and the faith to work for their realization. The genre that is the basis of his inquiry is born of their conviction that a nation dedicated to the proposition of human equality is an ideal worth fighting—and writing—for. This book engagingly chronicles the hopes and achievements of protest writing as it documents the rise of the protest essay in the United States." — Priscilla Wald, author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form

"Brian Norman convincingly demonstrates how the tradition of the American protest essay continues the legacy of American democracy by turning political advocacy into a fine art. The essayists and novelists he considers inhabit the space in between the nation's universalizing promises and the lived experiences of figures to whom those promises were refused. Informed by the conviction that a democracy that refuses to make good on its radical promises is an empty democracy, Brian Norman's timely book also reevaluates the literary and political significance of the protest tradition for our present." — Donald E. Pease, editor of National Identities and Post-Americanist Narratives