Universiteit Leiden

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John Rhoden and African-American Writers and Artists as Cold War Diplomats

  • Greg Barnhisel (Duquesne University)
Friday 29 April 2022
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

John Rhoden (1916-2001) was an African American sculptor from Birmingham, Alabama who became an “Art Specialist” for the U.S. State Department and foundation-funded cultural diplomacy programs in the 1950s, traveling to the USSR, Poland, Yugoslavia, and several African nations to represent and promote American culture. In so doing, Rhoden—like other African American writers and artists recruited as cultural diplomats—had to confront the contradiction of advocating for a nation that embraced racism in its laws and social practices. Using the relatively little-known Rhoden, as well as more prominent writers like Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison, as case studies, this talk will look at the difficult compromises and equivocal stands taken by African American artists and writers who acted as American cultural diplomats in the 1950s and 1960s, and why they were willing to engage in the State Department’s book and art programs abroad advancing the interests of a nation that tolerated racism and discrimination.

Greg Barnhisel is Professor of English at Duquesne University. He is the author of Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy (2015) and James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound (2005), and editor of The Bloomsbury Handbook to Cold War Literary Cultures (2022), Pressing the Fight: Print, Propaganda, and the Cold War (2010), and the scholarly journal Book History. His writing has appeared many scholarly publications as well as The New Republic, PublicBooks, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Currently he is completing a biography of the professor and spy Norman Holmes Pearson.


If you wish to join the event in person, you need to register. Please send an e-mail including your name and affiliation to Esmaeil Haddadian-Moghaddam.

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