Martyn Bone, "From the Jim Crow U.S. South to White Australia in John Oliver Killens "And Then We Heard the Thunder"

11 October, 2017
3.00-5.00 p.m.


In the 2001 special issue of American Literature announcing the “new southern studies,” Houston Baker and Dana Nelson cited the largely overlooked African American author John Oliver Killens alongside Malcolm X to stress “the nuanced inseparability of North and South in any fruitful model of American cultural studies.” Yet since 2001, no scholars identified with the New Southern Studies have explored the significance of this black southern writer’s substantial body of work: not only for its challenge to the ways in which (as historians Matthew Lassiter and Joseph Crespino observe) “southern exceptionalism still structure[s] the popular mythology of American exceptionalism,” but also how it resituates the U.S. South at national and global scales. In this presentation—drawn from a chapter of my forthcoming book, Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scales—I will discuss Killens’ second novel, And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963), which emerged out of his own military experiences during World War II. Thunder moves from the U.S. South via the U.S. West (California) across the Pacific into the Global South (the Philippines and Australia). In the process of charting this regional, national, and transnational narrative cartography, Killens explored how (as Harilaos Stecopoulos has put it) “the U.S. South and certain locations in what is now called the global South often manifested disturbing similarities” due to the omnipresence of white supremacy and racial segregation. I will focus on Killens’ fictionalization of the “Battle of Brisbane,” a nine-day conflict between white and black American soldiers during March 1942. But as a novel about black soldiers’ experiences of a truly worldwide war, Thunder also foregrounds how “African Americans long have combated regional, national, and global manifestations of white power”—not least when such manifestations, from the U.S. South to the Global South, emanate from organs of the U.S. state apparatus like the military.


Dr. Martyn Bone is associate professor of American Literature in the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen, where he also coordinates the Center for Transnational American Studies. He was previously an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Mississippi and lecturer in American studies at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction (2005) and the forthcoming Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scales (2018); the editor of Perspectives on Barry Hannah (2007); and the co-editor of a three-volume mini-series: The American South in the Atlantic World (2013), Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth Century South (2013), and Creating and Consuming the U.S. South (2015).


Location: Woolley S226

Contact:Robert Crompton
Phone:+61 2 9351 1012