Katherine Fusco is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno where she teaches American literature and film studies. She has published two books: Kelly Reichardt (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and Silent Film and U.S. Naturalist Literature: Time, Narrative and Modernity (Routledge, 2016). She is currently working on a third book about celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s.
To encounter black modernity via W. E. B. Du Bois is to tangle with questions of exemplarity and exceptionality. For my students in a large lecture class on the “American Experience,” many of whom are the first in their family to receive a college degree, many of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants, Booker T. Washington’s message of casting one’s bucket down can resonate more strongly than what they sometimes read as the elitism of Du Bois’s talented tenth. As a member of that tenth, Du Bois does not always speak to them—yeah, well, that guy went to Harvard, but that’s not most people; that’s not me.