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May/June 2018
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The Beast of Bradhurst Avenue, by George S. Schuyler (1934)

In 1934, George Schuyler's star was on the ascent. Beginning in the 1920s, he became one of the most prolific columnists, short story writers, essayists, and editors of his day. His debut (science fiction) novel, Black No More, had been published three years earlier.

His was a strident voice in debates surrounding the "race question" of twentieth-century America. Never afraid to speak his mind, Schuyler gladly picked fights with such luminaries as Langston Hughes and W. E. B. Du Bois in the very public forums of Nation, American Mercury, and Modern Quarterly among others, and was unusual in his presence within both black- and white-read publications.

But black fiction at this time was often restricted to African-American newspapers. The Beast of Bradhurst Avenue was a short novel serialized pseudonymously in weekly editions of the Pittsburgh Courier from May to June. It tells a grisly tale in which a series of murders in Harlem is revealed to be part of an experiment to "transplant a living human brain to the skull of a great dog." The brains of "colored" women—who are left beheaded and drained of blood—are selected by the dastardly Dr. Grausmann to fulfill this questionably useful end.

Schulyer taps into anxieties about the rise of fascism in Europe while satirizing stereotypes of Africa and Africans in the American public imagination: a considerable achievement given that, with a national circulation of 200,000, the Pittsburgh Courier reached four times as many readers as Astounding, whose circulation was about 50,000 in 1934. Today, Beast remains a rare early example of African-American science fiction in print from one of the most prolific and iconoclastic "race men" of his time.

—Phoenix Alexander

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