Manuel Zapata Olivella and the “Darkening” of Latin American Literature is an examination of the fictional work of one of Latin America’s most prolific, yet overlooked, writers. Born in Colombia to parents of mixed ancestry, Zapata Olivella used his novels to explore the plight of the downtrodden in his nation and by extension the experience of blacks in other parts of the Americas. Author Antonio D. Tillis offers a critical examination of Zapata Olivella’s major works of fiction from the 1940s to the 1990s, including Tierra mojada (1947); Pasión vagabunda (1949); He visto la noche (1953); La Calle 10 (1960); En Chimá nace un santo (1963); Las claves mágicas de América (1989); and Hemingway, el cazador de la muerte (1993).
Tillis focuses on the development of the “black aesthetic” in Zapata Olivella’s stories, in which the circumstances of the people of African heritage are centered in the narrative discourse. Tillis also traces Zapata Olivella’s novelistic effort to incorporate the Africa-descended subject into the literature of Latin America. A critical look at the placement of Afro–Latin American protagonists reveals the sociopolitical and historical challenges of citizenship and community. In addition, this study explores tenets of postcolonial and postmodern thought such as place, displacement, marginalization, historiographic metafiction, and chronological disjuncture in relation to Zapata Olivella’s fiction. Tillis concludes that the novelistic trajectory of this Afro-Colombian writer was one that brought into literary history an often overlooked subject: the disenfranchised citizen of African ancestry.
By expanding and updating the current scholarship on Zapata Olivella, Tillis leads us to new contexts for and interpretations of this author’s work. This analysis will be welcomed by readers who are just beginning to discover the writings of Zapata Olivella, and its new approach to those writings will be appreciated by scholars who are already familiar with his works.