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Reading: ‘Why can’t y’all be like Perry Mason?’: Black Panther Autobiography Meets Crime Fiction

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‘Why can’t y’all be like Perry Mason?’: Black Panther Autobiography Meets Crime Fiction

Author:

Chloé Avril

University of Gothenburg, SE
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Abstract

In this study, I examine the autobiographies of four activists associated with the Black Panther Party, namely, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur and Elaine Brown, investigating their use of a number of conventions taken from crime fiction. Crime fiction as a genre has often been discussed as reproducing conservative ideas about law and order. In light of this, and considering the fact that the connection between criminality and the Party is something these activists seek to challenge, I ask why they might nonetheless want to use the grammar of crime fiction in order to retell their lives. Focusing on a number of crime fiction elements evident in their texts, including in medias res openings and the courtroom drama, I show how these tropes allow them to perform powerful political reversals that further their critique of the U.S. justice system as well as pose questions about the nature of crime itself. Worth noting is also that the texts under study do not all emerge from the same historical and political moment, something that I argue has consequences for how we interpret them today.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.616
How to Cite: Avril, C., 2020. ‘Why can’t y’all be like Perry Mason?’: Black Panther Autobiography Meets Crime Fiction. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 19(5), pp.65–96. DOI: http://doi.org/10.35360/njes.616
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Published on 19 Dec 2020.
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