His work attracted the attention of one of the editors of Harper’s Weekly journal, William Dean Howells, with whose help and influence Dunbar became one of the first African American writers to enter the stage of international literature. Howells specifically praised the verses written in dialect and proposed the young poet exclusively pen his stanzas in black vernacular, arguing this language represented his “true voice” (Hogue 234; Nettels 80-81). Such a stance, racially exoticizing as it may have been, was however not too uncommon in an increasingly interconnected and integrated nation whose former colonial peculiarity of regions, places, and landscapes already began to dissipate in the face of emerging mass taste and popular culture. At the turn of the century, a transportation system of trans-continental railroads and shipping canals may have brought the industrializing nation’s citizens closer together, greatly accelerating agriculture, business, and trade. Still, some writers and other intellectual elites were already lamenting the inevitable end of an epoch of American regional distinctness when quixotic frontier towns and sublime landscapes could not be accessed with the simple purchase of a train ticket. Commodification in the service of private mobility, tourism, postcards, magazines, and photographs seemed to profane and dilute age-old regional idiosyncrasies concerning culture, language, religion, and philosophy.
Folk culture, including black culture, gained prominence in the local-color movement that encapsulated the nostalgia of people in an era of transition from rural to urban culture and their search for regions where rich cultures and ‘thick’ traditions still existed undisturbed by the corrupting influences of modernity, best exemplified by Thoreau’s complaints about train noises disturbing the transcendental tranquility of Walden Pond. But the literary turn towards decidedly regional settings and styles—termed American literary regionalism—was not merely the swan song of the nation’s colonial small-town origins but also the intimate marriage of fiction writing and spatiality and thus one of the first hotbeds of American cultural geography. Place-specific customs, histories, landscapes, and dialects became focal points of the many works of Southern regional authors like Kate Chopin (Désirée’s Baby 1893) and Charles Chesnutt (The Conjure Woman 1899) that engaged with region-specific themes like miscegenation, Creole culture, and played an important role in the consolidation of postbellum North-South and race relations. On the East Coast, Sarah Orne Jewett depicted the down-easters of her native Maine in The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896). Without doubt the most prominent regionalist writer was Samuel Longhorn Clemens aka Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn 1884), “the first great American writer born and raised west of the Appalachians” (Tindall 808) whose renditions of Southwestern culture, adolescent escapism, and frontier spirit shape the public imagination of the Mississippi region to this day. Using the metaphor of the fold, Gilles Deleuze suggests that literary regionalisms could thus be understood