Dreaming the Present

Time, Aesthetics, and the Black Cooperative Movement

By Irvin J. Hunt

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 halftones, 1 map

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6793-5
    Published: April 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6794-2
    Published: February 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5786-6
    Published: February 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6792-8
    Published: April 2022

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2023 William Sanders Scarborough Prize, Modern Language Association

Finalist, 2023 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize

Shortlisted, 2023 Museum of African American History Stone Book Award

This is a story of art and movement building at the limits of imagination. In their darkest hours, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, George Schuyler, and Fannie Lou Hamer gathered hundreds across the United States and beyond to build vast, but forgotten, networks of mutual aid: farms, shops, schools, banks, daycares, homes, health clinics, and burial grounds. They called these spaces “cooperatives,” local challenges to global capital, where people pooled all they had to meet their needs. By reading their activism as an artistic practice, Irvin Hunt argues that their primary need was to free their movement from the logic of progress. From a remarkably diverse archive, Hunt extrapolates three new ways to describe the time of a movement: a continual beginning, a deliberate falling apart, and a simultaneity, a kind of all-at-once-ness. These temporalities reflect how a people maneuvered the law, reappropriated property, built autonomous communities, and fundamentally reimagined what a movement can be. Their movement was not the dream of a brighter day; it was the making of today out of the stuff of dreams. Hunt offers both an original account of Black mutual aid and, in a world of diminishing futures, a moving meditation on the possibilities of the present.

About the Author

Irvin J. Hunt is assistant professor of English and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
For more information about Irvin J. Hunt, visit the Author Page.


“An engaging analysis. . . . Hunt calls forth a new way of looking at the Black cooperative movement and an alternative method for assessing its meaning and impact. . . . [I]ncisive and compelling.”—Journal of Southern History

Dreaming the Present is a beautifully rendered and captivating enarration of Black political life. Hunt refuses a story of linear progress or permanent disaster for Black people, instead focusing on the hard work of doing, that is to say the Black political tradition in which ethical relation has been the primary ethos. He tells us about the work of the living, which is not held hostage to hope. The book is brilliant and timely and will transform our understandings of social movements from abolition to civil rights and Black Lives Matter.”—Imani Perry, author of May We Forever Stand

“For Irvin Hunt, the Black cooperative movement is essential to what C. L. R. James calls ‘the history of Pan-African revolt.’ Dreaming the Present is deeply attuned to that movement’s ruptural gatherings and studious experiments. Hunt writes with a fierce urgency that requires and allows us to hear in and through the work of Du Bois, Schuyler, Baker, and Hamer the Black anticipation and extension of Samuel Beckett’s blues: ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’”—Fred Moten, author of consent not to be a single being

“Irvin J. Hunt reads key sites of Black cooperative economic formation to examine questions of political autonomy, collective power, and planning. He reveals how these cooperative formations were not just ‘alternatives’ to traditional market enterprises but were capable of protecting people from the violence and precarity of the ‘free’ market. This is a book that courses with creative energy, tacking back and forth between examples of the cooperative movements and their implications for social movement studies, literary studies, and political analysis. An enormously ambitious book.”—Daniel Martinez HoSang, author of A Wider Type of Freedom: How Struggles for Racial Justice Liberate Everyone

“Bursting with new insights into time, creativity, and collectivity, Irvin J. Hunt has given us a fresh and exciting examination of African American intellectual and political traditions—a brilliant, energizing book that will be relevant for years to come. Smart, engaging, and full of extraordinary observations and arguments. An immensely important work.”—John E. Drabinski, University of Maryland

Multimedia & Links

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