Great article about how the FBI surveilled (and influenced) Black writers from 1919 to 1972. I’ll bet it goes beyond ’72. Am I cynical or have I just been paying attention?
This just goes to show how political writers (literary works) are. Even the ones who don’t think they are: because to not engage with politics is a vote for how things are.
In light of this article, should writers seek out FBI personnel to critique their manuscripts? Retired FBI people could set themselves up a little critique business: writers send in their manuscripts to be assessed for political potency. The highest praise of a manuscript would be: “Likely to start revolution.” The lowest: “The government (or perhaps more accurately, the 1%) has nothing to worry about.”
Excerpt from the article, but recommend the whole thing:
… said Maxwell. “I knew Hoover was especially impressed and worried by the busy crossroads of black protest, leftwing politics, and literary potential. But I was surprised to learn that the FBI had read, monitored, and ‘filed’ nearly half of the nationally prominent African American authors working from 1919 (Hoover’s first year at the Bureau, and the first year of the Harlem Renaissance) to 1972 (the year of Hoover’s death and the peak of the nationalist Black Arts movement). In this, I realized, the FBI had outdone most every other major institution of US literary study, only fitfully concerned with black writing.”
Maxwell’s book about his discovery, FB Eyes: How J Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, is out on 18 February from Princeton University Press. It argues that the FBI’s attention was fueled by Hoover’s “personal fascination with black culture”, that “the FBI is perhaps the most dedicated and influential forgotten critic of African American literature”, and that “African American literature is characterised by a deep awareness of FBI ghostreading”.
Princeton said that while it is well known that Hoover was hostile to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, Maxwell’s forthcoming book is the first exposé of “the extent to which the FBI monitored and influenced African American writing” between 1919 and 1972.
… The academic told the Guardian that he believes the FBI monitoring stems from the fact that “from the beginning of his tenure at the FBI … Hoover was exercised by what he saw as an emerging alliance between black literacy and black radicalism”.
Richard Wright’s ditty is wonderful:
“every place I look, Lord / I find FB eyes / I’m getting sick and tired of gover’ment spies”