Although he never lived in Harlem, Chester Himes commented that he experienced “a sort of pure homesickness” while creating the Harlem-set detective novels from his self-imposed exile in Paris. Through writing, Himes constructed an imaginary home informed both by nostalgia for a community he never knew and a critique of the racism he left behind in the United States. Half a century later, Michelle Cliff wrote about her native Jamaica from the United States, articulating a positive Caribbean feminism that at the same time acknowledged Jamaica’s homophobia and color prejudice.
In At Home in Diaspora, Wendy Walters investigates the work of Himes, Cliff, and three other twentieth-century black international writers—Caryl Phillips, Simon Njami, and Richard Wright—who have lived in and written from countries they do not call home. Unlike other authors in exile, those of the African diaspora are doubly displaced, first by the discrimination they faced at home and again by their life abroad. Throughout, Walters suggests that in the absence of a recoverable land of origin, the idea of diaspora comes to represent a home that is not singular or exclusionary. In this way, writing in exile is much more than a literary performance; it is a profound political act.
Wendy W. Walters is assistant professor of literature at Emerson College.
Surrealism as a movement has always resisted the efforts of critics to confine it to any static definition—surrealists themselves have always preferred to speak of it in terms of dynamics, dialectics, goals, and struggles. Accordingly, surrealist groups have always encouraged and exemplified the widest diversity—from its start the movement was emphatically opposed to racism and colonialism, and it embraced thinkers from every race and nation.
Yet in the vast critical literature on surrealism, all but a few black poets have been invisible. Academic histories and anthologies typically, but very wrongly, persist in conveying surrealism as an all-white movement, like other "artistic schools" of European origin. In glaring contrast, the many publications of the international surrealist movement have regularly featured texts and reproductions of works by comrades from Martinique, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South America, the United States, and other lands. Some of these publications are readily available to researchers; others are not, and a few fall outside academia's narrow definition of surrealism.
This collection is the first to document the extensive participation of people of African descent in the international surrealist movement over the past seventy-five years. Editors Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley aim to introduce readers to the black, brown, and beige surrealists of the world—to provide sketches of their overlooked lives and deeds as well as their important place in history, especially the history of surrealism.
The historical novels of Manuel Zapata Olivella and Ana Maria Gonçalves map black journeys from Africa to the Americas in a way that challenges the Black Atlantic paradigm that has become synonymous with cosmopolitan African diaspora studies. Unlike Paul Gilroy, who coined the term and based it on W.E.B. DuBois’s double consciousness, Zapata, in Changó el gran putas (1983), creates an empowering mythology that reframes black resistance in Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. In Um defeito de cor (2006), Gonçalves imagines the survival strategies of a legendary woman said to be the mother of black abolitionist poet Luís Gama and a conspirator in an African Muslim–led revolt in Brazil’s “Black Rome.” These novels show differing visions of revolution, black community, femininity, sexuality, and captivity. They skillfully reveal how events preceding the UNESCO Decade of Afro-Descent (2015–2024) alter our understanding of Afro-Latin America as it gains increased visibility.
Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
Clear Word and Third Sight examines the strands of a collective African diasporic consciousness represented in the work of a number of Black Caribbean writers. Catherine A. John shows how a shared consciousness, or “third sight,” is rooted in both pre- and postcolonial cultural practices and disseminated through a rich oral tradition. This consciousness has served diasporic communities by creating an alternate philosophical “worldsense” linking those of African descent across space and time.
Contesting popular discourses about what constitutes culture and maintaining that neglected strains in negritude discourse provide a crucial philosophical perspective on the connections between folk practices, cultural memory, and collective consciousness, John examines the diasporic principles in the work of the negritude writers Léon Damas, Aimé Césaire, and Léopold Senghor. She traces the manifestations and reworkings of their ideas in Afro-Caribbean writing from the eastern and French Caribbean, as well as the Caribbean diaspora in the United States. The authors she discusses include Jamaica Kincaid, Earl Lovelace, Simone Schwarz-Bart, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, and Edouard Glissant, among others. John argues that by incorporating what she calls folk groundings—such as poems, folktales, proverbs, and songs—into their work, Afro-Caribbean writers invoke a psychospiritual consciousness which combines old and new strategies for addressing the ongoing postcolonial struggle.
Part literary history, part cultural study, Grounds of Engagement examines the relationships and exchanges between black South African and African American writers who sought to create common ground throughout the antiapartheid era. Stéphane Robolin argues that the authors' geographic imaginations crucially defined their individual interactions and, ultimately, the literary traditions on both sides of the Atlantic. Subject to the tyranny of segregation, authors such as Richard Wright, Bessie Head, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Michelle Cliff, and Richard Rive charted their racialized landscapes and invented freer alternative geographies. They crafted rich representations of place to challenge the stark social and spatial arrangements that framed their lives. Those representations, Robolin contends, also articulated their desires for black transnational belonging and political solidarity. The first book to examine U.S. and South African literary exchanges in spatial terms, Grounds of Engagement identifies key moments in the understudied history of black cross-cultural exchange and exposes how geography serves as an indispensable means of shaping and reshaping modern racial meaning.
In Horizon, Sea, Sound: Caribbean and African Women’s Cultural Critiques of Nation, Andrea Davis imagines new reciprocal relationships beyond the competitive forms of belonging suggested by the nation-state. The book employs the tropes of horizon, sea, and sound as a critique of nation-state discourses and formations, including multicultural citizenship, racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and the hierarchical nuclear family.
Drawing on Tina Campt’s discussion of Black feminist futurity, Davis offers the concept future now, which is both central to Black freedom and a joint social justice project that rejects existing structures of white supremacy. Calling for new affiliations of community among Black, Indigenous, and other racialized women, and offering new reflections on the relationship between the Caribbean and Canada, she articulates a diaspora poetics that privileges our shared humanity. In advancing these claims, Davis turns to the expressive cultures (novels, poetry, theater, and music) of Caribbean and African women artists in Canada, including work by Dionne Brand, M. NourbeSe Philip, Esi Edugyan, Ramabai Espinet, Nalo Hopkinson, Amai Kuda, and Djanet Sears. Davis considers the ways in which the diasporic characters these artists create redraw the boundaries of their horizons, invoke the fluid histories of the Caribbean Sea to overcome the brutalization of plantation histories, use sound to enter and reenter archives, and shapeshift to survive in the face of conquest. The book will interest readers of literary and cultural studies, critical race theories, and Black diasporic studies.
In this innovative study, Jenny Sharpe moves beyond the idea of art and literature as an alternative archive to the historical records of slavery and its aftermath. Immaterial Archives explores instead the intangible phenomena of affects, spirits, and dreams that Caribbean artists and writers introduce into existing archives. Through the works of Frantz Zéphirin, Edouard Duval-Carrié, M. NourbeSe Philip, Erna Brodber, and Kamau Brathwaite, Immaterial Archives examines silences as black female spaces, Afro-Creole sacred worlds as diasporic cartographies, and the imaginative conjoining of spirits with industrial technologies as disruptions of enlightened modernity.
Middle Passages and the Healing Place of History: Migration and Identity in Black Women’s Literature brings together a series of essays addressing black women’s fragmented identities and quests for wholeness. The individual essays concern culturally specific experiences of blacks in select African countries, England, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. They examine identity struggles by establishing the Middle Passage as the first site of identity rupture and the subsequent break from cultural and historical moorings. In most cases, the authors themselves have migrated from their places of origin to new spaces that present challenges. Their narratives replicate the displacement engendered by their own experiences of living with the complexities of diasporic existence. Their female characters, many of whom participate in multiple border crossings, work to define themselves within a hostile environment. In nearly every essay, the female characters struggle against multiple yokes of oppression, giving voice to what it means to be black, female, poor, old, and alone. The subjects’ migrations and journeys are analyzed as attempts to heal the “displacement,” both physical and psychological, that results from dislocation and relocation from the homeland, imagined variously as Africa.
This volume reveals that black women across the globe share a common ground fraught with struggles, but the narratives bear out that these women are not easily divided and that they stand upon each other’s shoulders dispensing healing balms. Black women’s history and herstory commingle; the trauma that ensued when Africans were loaded onto ships in chains continues to haunt black women, and men, too, wherever they find themselves in this present moment of the Diaspora.
In an ambitious reappraisal of Langston Hughes’s work and legacy, Ryan James Kernan reads Hughes’s political poetry in the context of his practice of translation to reveal an important meditation on diaspora. Drawing on heretofore unearthed archival evidence, Kernan shows how Hughes mined his engagements with the poetics of Louis Aragon, Nicolás Guillén, Regino Pedroso, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Federico García Lorca, and Léopold Sédar Senghor, as well as translations of his own poetry, to fashion a radical poetics that engaged Black left internationalist concerns. As he follows Hughes from Harlem to Havana, Moscow, Madrid, and finally to Dakar, Kernan reveals how the writer’s identity and aesthetic were translated within these leftist geographies and metropoles, by others but also collaboratively. As Kernan argues, we cannot know Hughes without knowing him in translation.
Through original research and close readings alert to the foreign prosody underlying Hughes’s work, New World Maker recuperates his political writing, which had been widely maligned by Cold War detractors and adherents of New Criticism, and affirms his place as a progenitor of African diasporic literature and within the pantheon of US modernists. Demonstrating the integral part translation played in Hughes’s creative process, this book challenges a number of common assumptions about this canonical thinker and offers important insights for scholars of African diasporic literature, comparative literature, and American, Caribbean, and translation studies.
Not Your Mother’s Mammy examines how black artists of the African diaspora, many of them former domestics, reconstruct the black female subjectivities of domestics in fiction, film, and visual and performance art. In doing so, they undermine one-dimensional images of black domestics as victims lacking voice and agency and prove domestic workers are more than the aprons they wear. An analysis of selected media by Alice Childress, Nandi Keyi, Victoria Brown, Kara Walker, Mikalene Thomas, Rene Cox, Lynn Nottage, and others provides examples of generations of domestics who challenged their performative roles of subservience by engaging in subversive actions contradicting the image of the deferential black maid. Through verbal confrontation, mobilization, passive resistance, and performance, black domestics find their voices, exercise their power, and maintain their dignity in the face of humiliation. Not Your Mother’s Mammy brings to life stories of domestics often neglected in academic studies, such as the complexity of interracial homoerotic relationships between workers and employers, or the mental health challenges of domestics that lead to depression and suicide. In line with international movements like #MeToo and #timesup, the women in these stories demand to be heard.
Of Vagabonds and Fellow Travelers recovers the history of the writers, artists, and intellectuals of the African diaspora who, witnessing a transition to an American-dominated capitalist world-system during the Cold War, offered searing critiques of burgeoning U.S. hegemony. Cedric R. Tolliver traces this history through an analysis of signal events and texts where African diaspora literary culture intersects with the wider cultural Cold War, from the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists organized by Francophone intellectuals in September 1956 to the reverberations among African American writers and activists to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Among Tolliver’s subjects are Caribbean writers Jacques Stephen Alexis, George Lamming, and Aimé Césaire, the black press writing of Alice Childress and Langston Hughes, and the ordeal of Paul Robeson, among other topics. The book’s final chapter highlights the international and domestic consequences of the cultural Cold War and discusses their lingering effects on our contemporary critical predicament.
In Place, Language, and Identity in Afro-Costa Rican Literature, Dorothy E. Mosby investigates contemporary black writing from Costa Rica and argues that it reveals the story of a people formed by multiple migrations and cultural transformations. Afro–Costa Rican writers from different historical periods express their relation to place, language, and identity as a “process,” a transformation partly due to sociohistorical circumstances and partly in reaction against the national myths of whiteness in the dominant Hispanic culture. Black writers in Costa Rica have used creative writing as a means to express this change in self-identity—as West Indians, as Costa Ricans, as “Latinos,” and as a contentious union of all these cultural identifications—as well as to combat myths and extrinsic definitions of their culture.
Mosby examines the transformation of identity in works by black writers in Costa Rica of Afro–West Indian descent as particular national identities find common ground in the expression of an Afro–Costa Rican identity. These writers include Alderman Johnson Roden, Dolores Joseph, Eulalia Bernard, Quince Duncan, Shirley Campbell, and Delia McDonald, all of whose works are analyzed for their use of language and their reflections on place and exile. Their works are also read as articulations of generational shifts in the assertion of cultural and national identity. Mosby convincingly argues that Afro–Costa Rican literature emerged out of the African-derived oral traditions of Anglo–West Indian literature. She then goes on to show how second-generation writers included this literary tradition in their work, while fourth-generation poets refer to it only through occasional allusions.
With the current growth of interest in Afro-Hispanic and Afro-Latin American cultural and literary studies, this book will be essential for courses in Latin American and Caribbean literature, comparative studies, Diaspora studies, history, cultural studies, and the literature of migration.
From Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, and Bessie Head, to Zanele Muholi, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Missy Elliott, Black women writers and artists across the African Diaspora have developed nuanced and complex creative forms. Mecca Jamilah Sullivan ventures into the unexplored spaces of black women’s queer creative theorizing to learn its languages and read the textures of its forms. Moving beyond fixed notions, Sullivan points to a space of queer imagination where black women invent new languages, spaces, and genres to speak the many names of difference. Black women’s literary cultures have long theorized the complexities surrounding nation and class, the indeterminacy of gender and race, and the multiple meanings of sexuality. Yet their ideas and work remain obscure in the face of indifference from Western scholarship.
Innovative and timely, The Poetics of Difference illuminates understudied queer contours of black women’s writing.
A pathbreaking work of scholarship that will reshape our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance, The Practice of Diaspora revisits black transnational culture in the 1920s and 1930s, paying particular attention to links between intellectuals in New York and their Francophone counterparts in Paris. Brent Edwards suggests that diaspora is less a historical condition than a set of practices: the claims, correspondences, and collaborations through which black intellectuals pursue a variety of international alliances.
Edwards elucidates the workings of diaspora by tracking the wealth of black transnational print culture between the world wars, exploring the connections and exchanges among New York–based publications (such as Opportunity, The Negro World, and The Crisis) and newspapers in Paris (such as Les Continents, La Voix des Nègres, and L'Etudiant noir). In reading a remarkably diverse archive--the works of writers and editors from Langston Hughes, René Maran, and Claude McKay to Paulette Nardal, Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Padmore, and Tiemoko Garan Kouyaté--The Practice of Diaspora takes account of the highly divergent ways of imagining race beyond the barriers of nation and language. In doing so, it reveals the importance of translation, arguing that the politics of diaspora are legible above all in efforts at negotiating difference among populations of African descent throughout the world.
In Queer Tidalectics, Emilio Amideo investigates how Anglophone writers James Baldwin, Jackie Kay, Thomas Glave, and Shani Mootoo employ the trope of fluidity to articulate a Black queer diasporic aesthetics. Water recurs as a figurative and material site to express the Black queer experience within the diaspora, a means to explore malleability and overflowing sexual, gender, and racial boundaries. Amideo triangulates language, the aquatic, and affect to delineate a Black queer aesthetics, one that uses an idiom of fluidity, slipperiness, and opacity to undermine and circumvent gender normativity and the racialized heteropatriarchy embedded in English. The result is an outline of an ever-expanding affective archive of experiential knowledge.
Amideo engages and extends the work of Black queer studies, Oceanic studies, ecocriticism, phenomenology, and new materialism through the theorizations of Sara Ahmed, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, M. Jacqui Alexander, Édouard Glissant, José Esteban Muñoz, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, among others. Ambitious in scope and captivating to read, Queer Tidalectics brings Caribbean writers like Glissant and Brathwaite into queer literary analysis—a major scholarly contribution.
Quince Duncan is a comprehensive study of the published short stories and novels of Costa Rica’s first novelist of African descent and one of the nation’s most esteemed contemporary writers.
The grandson of Jamaican and Barbadian immigrants to Limón, Quince Duncan (b. 1940) incorporates personal memories into stories about first generation Afro–West Indian immigrants and their descendants in Costa Rica. Duncan’s novels, short stories, recompilations of oral literature, and essays intimately convey the challenges of Afro–West Indian contract laborers and the struggles of their descendants to be recognized as citizens of the nation they helped bring into modernity.
Through his storytelling, Duncan has become an important literary and cultural presence in a country that forged its national identity around the leyenda blanca (white legend) of a rural democracy established by a homogeneous group of white, Catholic, and Spanish peasants. By presenting legends and stories of Limón Province as well as discussing the complex issues of identity, citizenship, belonging, and cultural exile, Duncan has written the story of West Indian migration into the official literary discourse of Costa Rica. His novels Hombres curtidos (1970) and Los cuatro espejos (1973) in particular portray the Afro–West Indian community in Limón and the cultural intolerance encountered by those of African-Caribbean descent who migrated to San José. Because his work follows the historical trajectory from the first West Indian laborers to the contemporary concerns of Afro–Costa Rican people, Duncan is as much a cultural critic and sociologist as he is a novelist.
In Quince Duncan, Dorothy E. Mosby combines biographical information on Duncan with geographic and cultural context for the analysis of his works, along with plot summaries and thematic discussions particularly helpful to readers new to Duncan.
Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History connects the black literary archive in South Africa—from the nineteenth-century writing of Tiyo Soga to Zakes Mda in the twenty-first century—to international postcolonial studies via the theory of transculturation, a position adapted from the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz.
David Attwell provides a welcome complication of the linear black literary history—literature as a reflection of the process of political emancipation—that is so often presented. He focuses on cultural transactions in a series of key moments and argues that black writers in South Africa have used print culture to map themselves onto modernity as contemporary subjects, to negotiate, counteract, reinvent, and recast their positioning within colonialism, apartheid, and the context of democracy.
In Ten Is the Age of Darkness, Geta LeSeur explores how black authors of the United States and English- speaking Caribbean have taken a European literary tradition and adapted it to fit their own needs for self-expression. LeSeur begins by defining the structure and models of the European genre of the bildungsroman, then proceeds to show how the circumstances of colonialism, oppression, race, class, and gender make the maturing experiences of selected young black protagonists different from those of their white counterparts.
Examining the parallels and differences in attitudes toward childhood in the West Indies and the United States, as well as the writers' individual perspectives in each work of fiction, LeSeur reaches intriguing conclusions about family life, community participation in the nurturing of children, the timing and severity of the youngsters' confrontation of adult society, and the role played by race in the journey toward adulthood.
LeSeur's readings of African American novels provide new insights into the work of Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, and Richard Wright, among others. When read as examples of the bildungsroman rather than simply as chronicles of black experiences, these works reveal an even deeper significance and have a more powerful impact. LeSeur convincingly demonstrates that such African American novels as Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Wright's Black Boy, and Morrison's The Bluest Eye concentrate to a large extent on protest, while such African West Indian works as George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin, Austin Clarke's Amongst Thistles and Thorns, Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John, and Erna Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home reflect a more naive, healthy re-creation of what childhood can and should be, despite economic and physical impoverishment. She also gives a special space within the genre to Paule Marshall's BrownGirl, Brownstones and Ntozake Shange's Betsey Brown and the importance of "woman time," "woman voice," and mothers.
While enlarging our understanding of both the similarities and the differences in the black experiences of the Carribean and American youngsters coming of age, Ten Is the Age of Darkness also suggests that children of color in similar spheres share many common experiences. LeSeur concludes that the bildungsromane by black writers provide uniquely revealing contributions to the Afro-World literary canon and point the way for others to examine literary pieces in Third World communities of color.
Nadia Ellis attends to African diasporic belonging as it comes into being through black expressive culture. Living in the diaspora, Ellis asserts, means existing between claims to land and imaginative flights unmoored from the earth—that is, to live within the territories of the soul. Drawing on the work of Jose Muñoz, Ellis connects queerness' utopian potential with diasporic aesthetics. Occupying the territory of the soul, being neither here nor there, creates in diasporic subjects feelings of loss, desire, and a sensation of a pull from elsewhere. Ellis locates these phenomena in the works of C.L.R. James, the testy encounter between George Lamming and James Baldwin at the 1956 Congress of Negro Artists and Writers in Paris, the elusiveness of the queer diasporic subject in Andrew Salkey's novel Escape to an Autumn Pavement, and the trope of spirit possession in Nathaniel Mackey's writing and Burning Spear's reggae. Ellis' use of queer and affect theory shows how geographies claim diasporic subjects in ways that nationalist or masculinist tropes can never fully capture. Diaspora, Ellis concludes, is best understood as a mode of feeling and belonging, one fundamentally shaped by the experience of loss.
The Things That Fly in the Night explores images of vampirism in Caribbean and African diasporic folk traditions and in contemporary fiction. Giselle Liza Anatol focuses on the figure of the soucouyant, or Old Hag—an aged woman by day who sheds her skin during night’s darkest hours in order to fly about her community and suck the blood of her unwitting victims. In contrast to the glitz, glamour, and seductiveness of conventional depictions of the European vampire, the soucouyant triggers unease about old age and female power. Tracing relevant folklore through the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, the U.S. Deep South, and parts of West Africa, Anatol shows how tales of the nocturnal female bloodsuckers not only entertain and encourage obedience in pre-adolescent listeners, but also work to instill particular values about women’s “proper” place and behaviors in society at large.
Alongside traditional legends, Anatol considers the explosion of soucouyant and other vampire narratives among writers of Caribbean and African heritage who in the past twenty years have rejected the demonic image of the character and used her instead to urge for female mobility, racial and cultural empowerment, and anti colonial resistance. Texts include work by authors as diverse as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, U.S. National Book Award winner Edwidge Danticat, and science fiction/fantasy writers Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson.
Analyzing literary texts and films, White Rebels in Black shows how German authors have since the 1950s appropriated black popular culture, particularly music, to distance themselves from the legacy of Nazi Germany, authoritarianism, and racism, and how such appropriation changes over time. Priscilla Layne offers a critique of how blackness came to symbolize a positive escape from the hegemonic masculinity of postwar Germany, and how black identities have been represented as separate from, and in opposition to, German identity, foreclosing the possibility of being both black and German. Citing four autobiographies published by black German authors Hans Jürgen Massaquo, Theodor Michael, Günter Kaufmann, and Charly Graf, Layne considers how black German men have related to hegemonic masculinity since Nazi Germany, and concludes with a discussion on the work of black German poet, Philipp Khabo Köpsell.