Epilogue
building community in contemporary
reading groups
The African American literary societies I have been looking at, from
their origins in mutual aid societies at the turn of the eighteenth
century to their e∆orescence during and after the Harlem Renais-
sance, have historically been crucial to uniting black communities,
illustrating the importance of collective endeavor, providing a net-
work of support for African American intellectuals, playing a constitu-
tive role in the formation of American literature, and influencing the
development of a black public sphere. Transformed in the last decades
of the twentieth century into reading groups and book clubs, contem-
porary literary societies continue to play important roles in black
communities throughout the nation. These contemporary literary co-
alitions have not necessarily evolved directly from the earlier literary
societies that have been the main focus of my research, and it is not my
intention to argue that there is a continuity in organized reading
groups from the early nineteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first
century. Instead of suggesting such lines of descent, I would like to
close my study by examining briefly the degree to which these con-
temporary literary societies are generally involved in the same particu-
lar set of issues, especially those issues involving the relationship be-
tween literary work and political activism, between collective study
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