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Under the Sky of My Africa

Alexander Pushkin and Blackness

Edited by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, and Ludmilla A. Trigos. Foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Publication Year: 2006

The first single volume in English on this rich topic, Under the Sky of My Africa addresses the wide variety of interests implicated in the question of Pushkin's blackness. In essays that are by turns biographical, iconographical, cultural, and sociological in focus, the authors representing a broad range of disciplines and perspectives take us from the complex attitudes toward race in Russia during Pushkin's era to the surge of racism in late Soviet and post Soviet contemporary Russia. Under the Sky of My Africa provides a wealth of basic material on the subject as well as a series of provocative readings and interpretations that will influence future considerations of Pushkin and race in Russian culture.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiv

Scholars believe that as many African slaves were sold across the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean as crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Think of it as the “other slave trade.” One of these slaves—who would be named Abram Gannibal by his new master—was born in the country today called Cameroon, sold into slavery, and taken across the desert to Constantinople. In 1704, when he was about seven or eight, he was purchased by...


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pp. xv-xvi

Editors’ Note

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pp. xvii

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Introduction: Was Pushkin Black and Does It Matter?

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pp. 3-45

ROUGHLY IN THE YEAR 1705, a young African boy, acquired from the seraglio of the Turkish sultan by the Russian envoy in Constantinople (Istanbul), was transported to Russia as a gift to Tsar Peter the Great, who was known for his love of the exotic and the odd. As the vagaries of history would have it, this child, later known as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was to become the godson of the ruler of the largest contiguous empire on...

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A. P. Gannibal: On the Occasion of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Pushkin’s Great-Grandfather

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pp. 46-78

ABRAM PETROVICH GANNIBAL died from a “cranial illness” on April 20, 1781, in the eighty-fifth year of his life.1 The illness came about as the result of an injury to the head suffered long ago, when the young man, who was studying engineering in France, took part in a campaign and fought at the Spanish fortress of Fuenterrabia. That was in 1719. The Spanish border. Paris. La Fère and its ancient fortress. Before...

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Pushkin on His African Heritage: Publications during His Lifetime

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pp. 79-98

PUSHKIN WAS PROUD of both sides of his family genealogy. At the same time, he was sensitive about each of them. Any consideration of his African heritage and his attitude toward it must be undertaken in the context of his Russian heritage and his attitude toward it. This essay will focus on the direct reflection of Pushkin’s African ancestry in works published during his lifetime, particularly those he himself completed and published (or...

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Ruslan and Ludmila: Pushkin’s Anxiety of Blackness

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pp. 99-121

PUSHKIN WAS BORN DIFFERENT. On the genealogical surface he was the descendant on both sides of a distinguished Russian boyar family. He had, it would seem, every right to the privilege of his heritage. At the same time, however, Pushkin was inordinately obsessed with his lineage, even as he was “proud to the point of hypersensitivity of his aristocratic pedigree.”1 The source of this obsession and hypersensitivity has generally...

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How Black Was Pushkin? Otherness and Self-Creation

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pp. 122-149

ALEXANDER PUSHKIN is Russia’s national poet, with all that means in the larger and smaller senses. One thing this means is that the difference we identify as Russian culture, whether viewed from the outside in or from the inside out, is simply not there without Pushkin. Make Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or Chekhov the central figure in that culture, its “origin without origins,” and that margin of difference looks very different, and considerably...

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The Telltale Black Baby, or Why Pushkin Began The Blackamoor of Peter the Great but Didn’t Finish It

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pp. 150-171

Pushkin gave readings of the completed chapters of the novel in December 1827 and March 1828, but by the spring of 1828 work on the novel appeared to have progressed little, if at all, further than it had during Pushkin’s first spurt of creativity the preceding year. By the end of 1828, the budding novelist had apparently given up the idea of finishing his first assay in the genre and decided to publish two excerpts from it independently. 2 Pushkin...

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Making a True Image: Blackness and Pushkin Portraits [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 172-195

FEW POETS, few dictators even, have had their physiognomies more ubiquitously represented in their native land than has Alexander Pushkin. Given the vitality of the Pushkin cult in Russia, and especially due to the state promotion of the cult during the Soviet era, it is not surprising to find Pushkin’s features gracing everything from candy wrappers and coffee cups to carafes, cafeterias, and classrooms.1 Many a famous artist of Pushkin’s day...

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Pushkin and Othello

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pp. 196-225

DESPITE THE NUMEROUS STUDIES on the influence of Shakespeare on Pushkin’s work, the subject of the significance of Othello to the Russian poet has not been treated separately.1 Yet Pushkin’s response to this particular play deserves special attention because of the pointed nature of his interest in and interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. For example, the features Pushkin singles out as central to Othello’s character are his skin...

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The Pushkin of Opportunity in the Harlem Renaissance

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pp. 226-247

THE SECOND AND THIRD DECADES of the twentieth century, when “white writers ignored the race question more than at any other time in American history,” marked a vibrant blossoming of African American literature as writers of African descent countered racism with concerted efforts to establish a distinct cultural identity.1 On the basis of his African blood, Pushkin was drawn into the struggle to overturn prevalent notions about race...

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“Bound by Blood to the Race”: Pushkin in African American Context

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pp. 248-278

UNDER THE HEADING “Pushkin,” the Dictionary Catalog of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History at the New York Public Library contains 118 entries. Some of these entries note that “The author was a Russian with Negro blood,” while many state merely “Negro author.”1 The Schomburg Collection’s impressive array of Pushkiniana—which includes everything from critical studies in Latvian to newspaper clippings...

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Tsvetaeva’s “Blackest of Black” (Naicherneishii) Pushkin

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pp. 279-301

IN HER MEDITATIONS on Pushkin in poetry and prose,1 Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) refers to Pushkin’s African heritage and to the blackness she associates with him as determining features of “her” Pushkin and, in turn, of her understanding of what it means to be a poet.2 Although she points out that Pushkin did not bear some of the physical characteristics associated with an African heritage—her Pushkin was “light-haired...

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“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”: Paul Robeson and the 1949 Pushkin Jubilee

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pp. 302-331

THE HISTORIAN Martin Duberman observes in his 1989 biography of Paul Robeson that he had “scant interest in recording his thoughts and feelings,” so we have no ready memoiristic window onto his own thoughts, and there is much about the African American social activist and performer’s emotional life that remains a mystery to us.1 Certainly Robeson’s response to the injustices of Stalinism during the late 1930s and the postwar...

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Artur Vincent Lourié’s The Blackamoor of Peter the Great: Pushkin’s Exotic Ancestor as Twentieth-Century Opera

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pp. 332-367

A clandestine correspondence did develop between composer and poet—but on the Blackamoor opera, no news was forthcoming. Lourié and Akhmatova died within half a year of each other, in 1966, she in Soviet Russia and he at his residence in Princeton, New Jersey. Evidence suggests that Akhmatova was skeptical toward the final Pushkin project of her distant...

Appendix A: Creativity and Blackness—a Note on Yury Tynianov’s “The Gannibals”

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pp. 369-376

Appendix B: Introduction to “The Gannibals” by Yury Tynianov

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pp. 377-383

Appendix C: Excerpt from “My Pushkin” by Marina Tsvetaeva

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pp. 384-392

Appendix D: Excerpt from Strolls with Pushkin by Abram Tertz

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pp. 393-397


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pp. 399-413


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pp. 415-417

E-ISBN-13: 9780810162051
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810119710

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory