Werner Sollors is one of the first scholars of American literature to focus on African American literature before it was thought to constitute a canon in the academy. Unlike many other scholars who shared his focus, he completed his education in postwar Germany. The title of his doctoral dissertation on LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), completed at the Free University of Berlin in 1975, has a still-contemporary ring: “The Quest for a ‘Populist Modernism.’” He taught at Columbia University, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and spent the bulk of his career in the United States. In this interview he discusses his intellectual formation and offers reflections on the development of his field, the evolving institutional culture of the university, and 1970s-era multiculturalism.

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