Between God and Gangsta Rap

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Defining himself as an ordained Baptist minister, a university professor, a radical democrat, and a public intellectual, Michael Eric Dyson, an influential African American cultural critic, can claim to live at the intersection of varied expressions of American society and black culture and to bring to the study of that culture, in its internal structures and in its relationships to the society at large, a viewpoint constructed out of multiple perspectives. His abiding position is that, while differences must be acknowledged and affirmed, all segments of black culture can learn from the others and from the larger world. As a black writer who engages in sustained dialogue with the white community, he obviously implies further that the larger world has much to learn from black culture.

Dyson’s religious commitment is most explicitly expressed in the “Invocation” and “Benediction” that constitute the book’s first and last chapters and in his tribute to Gardner Taylor, a great African American preacher. The “Invocation,” in substance an open letter to Dyson’s brother in prison, and the “Benediction,” addressed to the author’s wife, both give poignant personal application to one of Dyson’s compelling themes, the struggle to achieve authentic intimacy. In the tribute to Taylor, Dyson celebrates his subject’s prophetic witness, his charismatic personality, and his style.

“Style” perhaps suggests a secular turn, from...

(The entire section is 420 words.)