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Callahan, Monique-Adelle. Between the Lines: Literary Transnationalism and African-American Poetics. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 183pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

In Between the Lines, Monique-Adelle Callahan offers a comparative study of women poets from the Americas, focusing on the works of Frances Harper (USA), Cristina Ayala (Cuba), and Auta de Souza (Brazil). As the author acknowledges, she based her choices of authors on the quality of the poetry written by these nineteenth-century female writers and on the contribution they gave to shaping a history of the struggle against racial, social, and gender discrimination in their countries of origin. The book consistently points out the power of language and the role poetry has had “to transform the landscape of a society” (24), and the various forms it contributes to the “process of narrating nation” (6). Elegantly written, Between the Lines includes an introduction, four chapters, a conclusion, and an epilogue in which Callahan analyzes the permeability of cultures in the Americas, the role poetry has had in giving an account of the African Diaspora, and in linking “the history of slavery in the New World” (5). In the introduction, she discusses poetry as “translation and transnation” (6–12), and explains her choice of the word afrodescendente which refers to “an imagined literary community of writers of African descent” (12). She also gives an outline of the chapters (39–41), offers an introduction to the writing of Harper, Ayala, and Souza (21–39), and discusses the writers Phillis Wheatley, Juan Francisco Manzano, and Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés as “literary foundations” (13–21) who paved the way for Harper and Ayala. The reference to those predecessors seems somewhat gratuitous, especially because they are not an integral part of the discussions in the chapters in which Callahan analyzes poems by Harper and Ayala. In addition, Callahan establishes an uneven pattern of discussions when she neglects to present a “literary foundation” to Auta de Souza as well.

In this book, Callahan crosses the borders of three languages (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) with ease, presenting insightful readings and careful translations of the poems she selected to represent her views of literary trans-nationalism. Chapter 1 (“Translations of Transnational Black Icons in the Poetics of Frances Harper,” 42–58) focuses on this African-American writer, diving deep into language as “translation” of the process of nation building. It also offers an excellent discussion of how Harper reaches out beyond her national borders to select heroic figures of resistance (Zumbi in Brazil, and Antonio Maceo in Cuba), appropriating symbols from other cultures to extend her critique of the tribulations of slavery, the lack of freedom, and inequalities in the United States. Callahan presents a perceptive and detailed discussion of Harper’s poem “Death of Zombi” (sic), which narrates the invasion and destruction of Quilombo dos Palmares, a community of escaped slaves in Northeast Brazil led by Zumbi. She believes that Harper chose to write about Palmares’s leader in order “to suggest a larger historical and mythological scope” of the problems that [End Page 140] plagued Africans and their descendants in the Americas (46). She also analyzes how Harper’s poem “Maceo,” which reads as an elegy to the death of the Afro-Cuban leader, “thematizes black resistance to not only racial slavery but also colonial oppression” (49).

Chapter 2 (“Signs of Blood: Redemption Songs and ‘American’ Poetry beyond Borders,” 59–73) and Chapter 3 (“Write the Vision: Gender and Nation beyond Emancipation,” 74–95) offer comparative analyses of poems by Harper and Ayala. The second chapter focuses on Harper’s scriptural poems comparing her writing to Ayala’s reinterpretation of the Bible. This chapter analyzes how these two authors “allegorize the history of racial slavery” (39). In the third chapter, Callahan draws close attention to the political and ideological struggles that took place in the United States and in Cuba. She also analyzes how these two authors discuss gender issues. In Chapter 4 (“Prison Breaks: Modes of Escape in Auta de Souza’s Poetics of Freedom,” pages 96–113), Callahan focuses on the topic of freedom and on Souza’s biblical allusions, drawing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9957
Print ISSN
0024-7413
Pages
pp. 140-142
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-29
Open Access
N

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