As both a scholar and creative writer, Dr. Varlack is concerned with calling attention to the voices of those who are silent or silenced and the ways in which people of color respond socially as well as politically to the traditions of oppression at work within the United States. Much of his research is therefore focused upon tracing the theories of the Black utopia and what Claude McKay termed "the Black group soul" in the works of the Harlem Renaissance era. The Harlem Renaissance, after all, was a time of explosive production for Black artists, but it was also a moment when "the Negro was in vogue" (Hughes), capturing the attention of the nation. Thus, he contends that these works still hold continued value today for the insights that they offer into topics such as Black aggregation, the color line, and the decolonization of the African-American mind.
In his efforts to better understand the lessons that the luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance left behind, Dr. Varlack is particularly interested in exploring how authors such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, and Claude McKay used the crucible of fiction to test out real-world theories and approaches to Black disenfranchisement while actively encouraging diversified representations of Blackness in art and popular culture of the day. Currently, he is working on a book project that examines the six novels produced by Claude McKay as an international journey to find the Black utopia and to determine concrete strategies that could bring about the Black group soul. In addition, he is currently in the process of examining autobiographical works of the Harlem Renaissance as both sociocultural criticism and literary manifestos. For more, see his major projects below:
Critical Insights: Civil Rights Literature, Past & Present
From the flawed notion of "separate but equal" instituted with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision to the rampant violence against the Black community that marked much of U.S. history, the United States has been plagued with a racial divide that we still work to redress today. In response, on August 28, 1963, noted orator and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the Lincoln Memorial, urging swift social and political change in a society marred by a rich history of disenfranchisement and discrimination. Since then, we have largely recognized this speech as a symbol of the enduring struggle for equal rights and the pursuit of the core values upon which the not-so united United States was based. Issues of race, however, are only part of the civil rights debate still taking place. Vital conversations must also take place regarding gender discrimination, classism, and the anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda, among other critical issues that define so much of life in what King once described as this "inescapable network of mutuality." This edited volume, Critical Insights: Civil Rights Literature, Past & Present, edited by Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack in 2017, attempts to expand the conversation by calling attention to the diverse range of civil rights issues at the heart of U.S. literatures across genre and across time. The volume features twenty critical essays in addition to chronologies on race, gender, and sexual identity.
Critical Insights: Harlem Renaissance
Largely noted for its unparalleled production of art and literature from the African-American community, the period of cultural rebirth known as the Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, has been a consistent source of interest for both readers and scholars alike. With the rise of key authors from Langston Hughes to Claude McKay, among others, the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to creative endeavors by Black artists and writers eager to celebrate those many unique characteristics of Black life and to challenge the institutionalized racial hierarchy pervasive within the twentieth-century United States. These creative thinkers, certainly intellectuals in their own right, used their poetry, short stories, novels, and plays as a vehicle to critique the longstanding issues within society that limited socioeconomic mobility for Blacks and perpetuated startling stereotypes about a community far too long oppressed. Because of its undeniable impacts in shaping the U.S. cultural imagination, the Harlem Renaissance has since been heavily studied as one of the most vital periods of artistic as well as cultural explosion the African-American community has ever experienced. Critical Insights: Harlem Renaissance, edited by Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack in 2015, includes nineteen critical essays on authors and themes of this important era as well as an extensive chronology and selection of works for additional reading. It is now listed as a bestseller within the Critical Insights series at Salem Press.