Nathaniel F Mills

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Nate Mills's research focuses on the political commitments of twentieth-century U.S. and African American literature, specifically literary engagements with the 1930s-1950s Communist left and with political movements of the Cold War and Civil Rights eras. His first book, Ragged Revolutionaries: The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017), introduces the understudied Marxist concept of the lumpenproletariat (the "proletariat in rags," Marx's catch-all term for social outsiders and criminals) to literary studies. Ragged Revolutionaries argues that the lumpenproletariat inspired certain 1930s African American Communist writers--Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Margaret Walker--to craft an alternative practice of Marxist thought and aesthetics that accounted for the intersectional operations of capitalism, Jim Crow, and patriarchy in Depression America and imagined new routes of social transformation. His current project explores the history of twentieth-century African American writers' workshops, and considers how the activities of such institutions open up new ways of theorizing African American authorship and literary production.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: English Language and Literature, University of Michigan.
  • M.A.: English, Syracuse University.
  • B.A.: American Studies; English and Textual Studies (with honors), Syracuse University.


  • 20th-century U.S. and African American Literature
  • African American Studies
  • Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright
  • Literature and Culture of the Great Depression
  • The Literary Left and Communism in the US
  • “Marxism, Communism, and Richard Wright’s Depression-Era Work.”The Cambridge Companion to Richard Wright. Ed. Glenda Carpio (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
  • “African American Historical Writing in the Depression Era.”The Cambridge Companion to American Literature of the 1930s. Ed. William Solomon (Cambridge University Press, 2018).
  • Ragged Revolutionaries: The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017).
  • “Writing Brotherhood: The Utopian Politics of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”Lineages of the Literary Left. Ed. Robbie Lieberman, Paula Rabinowitz, and Howard Brick (University of Michigan Publishing, 2015).
  • “Playing the Dozens and Consuming the Cadillac: Ralph Ellison and Civil Rights Politics.”Twentieth-Century Literature 61.2 (2015): 147-172.
  • “Ralph Ellison’s Marxism: The Lumpenproletariat, the Folk, and the Revolution.”African American Review 47.4 (2014): 537-554.
  • “Playing in the Dark, on the Left, and Out of Bounds: Nelson Algren, World War II, and the Cross-Racial Imagination of Blackness.”MELUS 38.4 (2013): 146-170.
  • “Cleaver/Baldwin Revisited: Naturalism and the Gendering of Black Revolution.”Studies in American Naturalism 7.1 (2012): 50-79.
  • “The Dialectic of Electricity: Kenneth Fearing, Walter Benjamin, and a Marxist Aesthetic.”Journal of Modern Literature 30.2 (2007): 17-41.
  • Clarence D. Thorpe Dissertation Prize, Department of English, University of Michigan, 2012
  • ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan, 2012