"Mature Themes": Childhood in the African American Literary Scene of Encounter
This essay introduces "Encounter," a literary device that juxtaposes the themes we tend to call "mature"—such as addiction, poverty, and police brutality—with maturity's apparent antithesis: childhood. As both a literary device and a methodology, Encounter is an aesthetic form that uses childhood to make ideology visible. Its hallmark attributes—didacticism, gothic echoes, paradoxical innocence, temporal elasticity, and hopeful futurity—marshal associations with childhood to emphasize and expose White supremacy's ideology at work. The lens of Encounter illuminates the centrality of childhood in twentieth-century texts for children and adults by major writers in the African American literary tradition, including W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin. The essay builds on current work in critical childhood studies, theories of racial identity development, and critical examination of the haunting persistence of slavery and its afterlives in the nation's racial consciousness.
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Locate the Document
Hines, M. (2022). " Mature Themes": Childhood in the African American Literary Scene of Encounter. College Literature, 49(3), 421-447.