“Dances with Words” is produced by English Professor Alan Weltzien. The series, free and open to the public, provides the community with a unique opportunity to listen to writers reading their own works, including Montana Western student writers.
Johnson is Professor of American literature at the University of Maine at Farmington. His primary research areas are African American Literature and the literature and culture of the American West. He is the author of Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature, Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West, and, most recently, the biography of African American singer Taylor Gordon, Can’t Stand Still: Taylor Gordon and the Harlem Renaissance.
Born in 1893 into the only African American family in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, Emmanuel Taylor Gordon (1893–1971) became an internationally famous singer in the 1920s at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. With his musical partner, J. Rosamond Johnson, Gordon was a crucially important figure in popularizing African American spirituals as an art form, giving many listeners their first experience of black spirituals.
Despite his fame, Taylor Gordon has been all but forgotten, until now. Michael K. Johnson illuminates Gordon’s personal history and his cultural importance to the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, arguing that during the height of his celebrity, Gordon was one of the most significant African American male vocalists of his era. Gordon’s story—working in the White Sulphur Springs brothels as an errand boy, traveling the country in John Ringling’s private railway car, performing on vaudeville stages from New York to Vancouver to Los Angeles, performing for royalty in England, becoming a celebrated author with a best-selling 1929 autobiography, and his long bout of mental illness—adds depth to the history of the Harlem Renaissance and makes him one of the most fascinating figures of the twentieth century.
Michael K. Johnson is also co-editor of New Directions in Black Western Studies, a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of American Studies, co-editor of an anthology of criticism, Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre, which is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press, and a former President of the Western Literature Association.
Featured authors’ books at “Dances with Words” are made available for purchase by The Bookstore and Deb Sporich.
For more information about the series, please contact Alan Weltzien by email at [email protected] or call 406-683-7431.