440 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera
2012 George C. Rogers Jr. Book Award, South Carolina Historical Society
Created by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward and sung by generations of black performers, Porgy and Bess has been both embraced and reviled since its debut in 1935. In this comprehensive account, Ellen Noonan examines the opera's long history of invention and reinvention as a barometer of twentieth-century American expectations about race, culture, and the struggle for equality. In its surprising endurance lies a myriad of local, national, and international stories.
For black performers and commentators, Porgy and Bess was a nexus for debates about cultural representation and racial uplift. White producers, critics, and even audiences spun revealing racial narratives around the show, initially in an attempt to demonstrate its authenticity and later to keep it from becoming discredited or irrelevant. Expertly weaving together the wide-ranging debates over the original novel, Porgy, and its adaptations on stage and film with a history of its intimate ties to Charleston, The Strange Career of "Porgy and Bess" uncovers the complexities behind one of our nation’s most long-lived cultural touchstones.
"This captivating read is an important contribution to the scholarship surrounding Heyward’s and Gershwin’s work."
"Ellen Noonan digs deep into the production and reception history of what has been called 'the most contradictory cultural symbol ever created in the Western world.' In this richly detailed book, Porgy and Bess becomes a prism refracting myriad triumphs and tragedies, collusions and fissures, in the American history of race, region, and culture. It is about white fantasy and black jobs, the slippery intersection of cultural and political representation, the problems of canonization, and, ultimately, the distorted feedback loop between the imaginary Catfish Row and the realities of everyday life for African Americans in Charleston. I was on the edge of my seat until the curtain call."
--Karl Hagstrom Miller, University of Texas
"Noonan's incisive book explores the social, aesthetic, and cultural dynamics that shaped this significant American opera. Her analysis of this play and its production history provide important insight into the continually evolving politics of race in the United States. The successful 2011 Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess makes Noonan's contribution all the more relevant to our present moment. Engaging and informative, this is a most notable book for scholars and students interested in American cultural history."
--Harry J. Elam, Jr, Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press
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