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Restless Classics presents The Souls of Black Folk: W. E. B. Du Bois’s seminal work of sociology, with searing insights into our complex, corrosive relationship with race and the African-American consciousness. Reconsidered for the era of Obama, Trump, and Black Lives Matter, the new edition includes an incisive introduction from rising cultural critic Vann R. Newkirk II and stunning illustrations by the artist Steve Prince.
Published in 1903, exactly forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk fell into the hands of an American nation that had still not yet found “peace from its sins.” With such deep disappointment among African-Americans still awaiting full emancipation, Du Bois believed that the moderate and conciliatory efforts of civil-rights leader Booker T. Washington could only go so far. Taking to the page, Du Bois produced a resounding declaration on the rights of the American man and laid out an agenda that was at the time radical but has since proven prophetic. In fourteen chapters that move fluidly between historical and sociological essays, song and poetry, personal recollection and fiction, The Souls of Black Folk frames “the color line” as the central problem of the twentieth century and tries to answer the question, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” Striking in his psychological precision as well as his political foresight, Du Bois advanced ithe influential ideas of “double-consciousness”—an inner conflict created by the seemingly irreconcilable “black” and “American” identities—and “the veil,” through which African-Americans must see a spectrum of economic, social, and political opportunities entirely differently from their white counterparts’.
Now, over fifty years after Du Bois’s death and the Civil Rights Act, we need this seminal work more urgently than ever. Long overdue for reconsideration, it is the latest installment of Restless Classics, featuring illustrations by master printmaker Steve Prince and a new introduction by Atlantic staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II.
About the Author
William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (1868 – 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil-rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. He rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), was a seminal work in African-American literature. The United States' Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.
Vann R. Newkirk II is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy. Prior to work at The Atlantic, Vann was at Daily Kos, where he focused on justice and health issues, specifically the intersection of policy, race, class, and culture. He has also contributed articles, essays, and photography to sites such as GQ, Gawker, Grantland, and Ebony. Vann is also the founder of Seven Scribes and a contributing editor.
Steve Prince is an artist, educator, and art evangelist. He is a native of New Orleans, and the rhythms of the city's art, music, and religion pulsate through his work. Steve's favorite medium is linoleum cut printmaking. Through his complex compositions and rich visual vocabulary, Steve creates powerful narrative images that express his unique vision founded in hope, faith, and creativity.
Praise for the Restless Classics Edition:
“With a striking new introduction written by Atlantic journalist Vann R. Newkirk II and riveting artwork from printmaker Steve Prince, Restless Classics' new edition of The Souls of Black Folk is presented—in all its relevancy—as a crucial work of sociology that is applicable to the current political, economic and social climate more than a century later. To understand the driving force behind today’s current Black liberation movement, to recognize the historic pattern and large scope of state violence against communities of color, to dissect the most recent wave of white nationalism surging through the nation is to know the duality of African-American life presented by W.E.B Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk. Hailed as the bedrock of any examination on Blackness in America—from literature to front-line resistance—the century-old exploration of 'the color line' stands unblemished by time, its wholeness applying fully to the era of Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump. Presented by Restless Classics, with a pointed introduction by journalist Vann R. Newkirk II, the newest edition of Du Bois’ work presents itself through the lens of today’s political and social climate, highlighting the ugly truth that white supremacy’s roots still grip America and serving as an introduction to a generation fighting a familiar battle for liberation, one that our elders have already witnessed . . . Newkirk’s introduction . . . examines the immortality of what can be considered the most important piece of literature to date.”
—Christina Coleman, Essence
“W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a fundamental American work of both sociology and literature, remains relevant, influential, and uncomfortably alive 114 years after its first publication in 1903. My first exposure to the book, however, has been this new edition from Restless Books. As a well-read, liberal-arts-educated white Jewish American, I finished its final chapter feeling my own soul had been expanded, my perspective widened, my mind enlightened and even amazed.… All these years later I’ve discovered that The Souls of Black Folk is a remarkable book of multiple dimensions, a literary masterpiece of commentary and sociology. In style it reflects its author’s classical education, but in other ways it is sui generis, and its importance can scarcely be overestimated.… Reflecting on my own reading of [Ta-Nehisi] Coates over the past few years, I now see a literary kinship between the old socialist and the modern-day advocate for reparations.… Dead for over half a century now, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois still walks down the world through his thought and his prose. The new, well-produced, relatively inexpensive trade paperback edition from Restless Books offers an excellent opportunity to broaden our perspective on questions of race in America by increasing our understanding of racism’s history and sociology, enlightened by one of the country’s most creative minds. There’s creativity beyond Du Bois here too, with illustrations that are alone almost worth the price of the book. A series of linoleum block prints by Steve Prince illustrates the book’s history and themes with swirling scenes of struggle and defiance, portraits, and iconography.”
—Jon Sobel, Blogcritics
“The first book anyone seeking to understand black American life ought to read, and a basic requirement of civic literacy, 114 years after the fact. The richness of W. E. B. Du Bois’s prose, scholarship, and memoir needs no amplification from me, nor does its sadly continuing relevance.… Aside from Vann R. Newkirk II’s of-the-moment introduction, what sets the current volume apart are the illustrations between Du Bois’s essays by Steve Prince. The stark detail of his black-and-white linoleum cuts highlight the universal aspects of Du Bois’s assertions, and further connect what is essentially a collection of fourteen disparate essays held together initially by Du Bois’s references to black spirituals.… Newkirk’s introduction makes the connections clear, and Prince’s art makes them palpable. If there’s a young reader or student who’s yet to encounter this seminal text, start them off with this new, vital version.… As the new version of The Souls of Black Folk suggests, the potential for the visual storytelling of black life is almost as vast as black life itself.”
—Mark Reynolds, PopMatters
“First published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk remains an iconic text that conceptualizes what it means to be black in America. Written as a collection of essays, a short story, songs and poems, Souls traces a psychological and philosophical narrative on race unlike any text before it, and quite frankly, after it…. The book’s purpose could be seen as formulating an early critique to white hegemony, which increasingly saw blackness, both culturally and politically, as problematic. To say that we have found a solution to America’s racial divergence would be misleading when one considers our current political and social climates. Indeed, the continuity bridging the moment of Souls’ first appearance to the time of this newly reprinted volume from Vann R. Newkirk II and Steve Prince (Restless Books, 2017) illustrates the tumultuous road we are yet traveling….
In what operates as both a critical and personal introduction to this new edition of Souls, Newkirk takes into consideration the prominence of the book when it was first published as well as his own story of how he came to admire the work…. For Newkirk, Souls is a primer for young activists who adamantly oppose white supremacy in the twenty-first century. But it is also—he insists—fundamental to any non-black person who seeks to better understanding the warring dualities of African American self-perception within current racial and political issues….
Working with Newkirk, Steve Prince includes ten art pieces within the volume, thereby bridging “current black art and cultural criticism” wonderfully. It should be mentioned that one of Du Bois’ aims in Souls is to show the importance of black art and cultural productions, so it was refreshing to see how well Newkirk and Prince collaborated to bring this aspect to the page. The art, which Prince creates from the imagery of Du Bois’s seminal text, draws upon the storied form of block printing—from German Expressionism to revolutionary Mexican print to the Black Arts and Black Power movements. Prince’s artwork showcases the power of resistance in the “face of hegemony”....The images are in black and white, expressive of the color line, and are each majestically drawn to cover two pages. They are grand, beautiful, and fulfilling within the context of Du Bois’s words. The inclusion of Prince’s artwork alone makes this new edition worth picking up. Readers will be amazed at the complexity of these pieces and how they pair visually with Du Bois’s critique of America.
Souls is required reading. Just as it was important then and is important now, a text such as this will be even more important as the future unfolds…. Newkirk’s introduction is worth reading, as well…. In short, Du Bois captures the essence of black life in post-Reconstruction America more vividly and creatively than any other writer. And Newkirk and Prince, in keeping with Du Bois’s own goal—“to make a name in science, to make a name in art and thus to raise my race”—recapitulate this essence in this new edition of The Souls of Black Folk.”
—Don Holmes, The Carolina Quarterly
Praise for Previous Editions:
“Dr. Du Bois was not only an intellectual giant exploring the frontiers of knowledge, he was in the first place a teacher. He would have wanted his life to teach us something about our tasks of emancipation. One idea he insistently taught was that black people have been kept in oppression and deprivation by a poisonous fog of lies that depicted them as inferior, born deficient and deservedly doomed to servitude to the grave . . . Dr. Du Bois recognized that the keystone in the arch of oppression was the myth of inferiority and he dedicated his brilliant talents to demolish it.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Du Bois . . . wrote knowing full well that what he said was neither palatable nor negotiable, that a large portion of the country would not be swayed, and that the truth, in and of itself, must be enough. It is often said that this space lacks for hope. Here is your bone for the day: In the academy, Du Bois was victorious. He did not live to see that victory, but it is his view on the centrality of white supremacy that now carries the day.”
“What Dr. Du Bois showed is that he had enormous courage. I would encourage young men and women, black and white and Asian and Spanish speaking and all, all to look at Dr. Du Bois and realize that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving any of those without courage.”
"Du Bois's most important gift to the black literary tradition is, without question, the concept of the duality of the African-American, expressed metaphorically in his elated metaphors of ‘double-consciousness’ and the ‘veil.’”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“The impact of The Souls of Black Folk on black American writing, and on writing about black America, is all the clearer. The descent of the imaginative treatments of two-ness, invisibility, and the magic behind the veil, from Ellison to Baldwin to Morrison, has by now become a stock theme in accounts of modern American literature. But the book’s radicalism, its astonishing precocity, hardly ends there. It would take more than fifty years for mainstream American historical writing to catch up with Du Bois’ insight about the resilience and spiritual depth of the slaves’ culture, and about the benefits of Reconstruction and the ex-slaves’ role in achieving those benefits . . . And historians have only begun to comprehend and amplify Du Bois’ claim that American culture has been marked, indeed defined, by black people’s presence.”
“Du Bois is the brook of fire through which we all must pass in order to gain access to the intellectual and political weaponry needed to sustain the radical democratic tradition in our time.”
“I never emulated white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Du Bois and Mandela.”