Date of Award

Spring 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sarah W Sherman

Second Advisor

Delia C Konzett

Third Advisor

Sean D Moore


This dissertation examines interactions between U.S. writers of color and the predominantly white publishing industry at the turn of the twentieth century, considering how a selection of multi-ethnic authors—Charles W. Chesnutt, Finley Peter Dunne, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far—adapted styles of literary regionalism, dialect writing, and racial caricature to simultaneously engage and subvert the values of their white readers. In particular, the project explores how such writing strategies, what I call "tactics of ambivalence," circulated and were received within the contemporary literary marketplace. While recent scholarship has recognized the disruptive potential of this writing, I argue that a popular white audience decisively rejected turn-of-the-century ethnic literature and its critique of dominant racial ideologies through self-protective misreading and hostile criticism. To make this argument, the dissertation conducts research using publishers' archives and business records, advertisements and other paratextual materials, as well as popular reviews and criticism. The project also moves through various fields of literary culture, examining prestigious publishing venues such as Houghton Mifflin and the Atlantic Monthly, the syndication of fiction in newspapers alongside yellow journalism, and the rise of Chicago as a literary center of national standing. Combining approaches in book history, reception study, and critical race scholarship, my research reveals the extent to which white supremacist attitudes defined the literary marketplace and the struggle of ethnic authors to overcome the deep prejudice of their readers. The project concludes that, while an ethnic literature emerged within mainstream U.S. culture at the turn of the century, its entry into a racist marketplace was fraught with rejection and conflict, and its subversive potential remained largely unrealized. It was only through long-term survival and influence among niche audiences that this literature's transformative message would be more fully recognized.

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