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Difficult Diasporas

The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Samantha Pinto

Publication Year: 2013

In this comparative study of contemporary Black Atlantic women writers, Samantha Pinto demonstrates the crucial role of aesthetics in defining the relationship between race, gender, and location. Thinking beyond national identity to include African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Black British literature, Difficult Diasporas brings together an innovative archive of twentieth-century texts marked by their break with conventional literary structures. These understudied resources mix genres, as in the memoir/ethnography/travel narrative Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston, and eschew linear narratives, as illustrated in the book-length, non-narrative poem by M. Nourbese Philip, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. Such an aesthetics, which protests against stable categories and fixed divisions, both reveals and obscures that which it seeks to represent: the experiences of Black women writers in the African Diaspora.
Drawing on postcolonial and feminist scholarship in her study of authors such as Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Alexander, Erna Brodber, Ama Ata Aidoo, among others, Pinto argues for the critical importance of cultural form and demands that we resist the impulse to prioritize traditional notions of geographic boundaries. Locating correspondences between seemingly disparate times and places, and across genres, Pinto fully engages the unique possibilities of literature and culture to redefine race and gender studies.
Samantha Pinto is Assistant Professor of Feminist Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department at Georgetown University.
In the American Literatures Initiative

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-x

I feel like I have had such a charmed intellectual existence that I do not know where to begin expressing gratitude for the writing of this book. I suppose a sort of intellectual history would organize it as well as any: At Rutgers, I had the good fortune of stumbling into classes with some of the smartest, most generous professors and peers I have found since: ...

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Introduction: The Feminist Disorder of Diaspora

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pp. 1-17

In the 1924 hit “Freight Train Blues,” Trixie Smith outlines an early feminist critique of diaspora, singing, “When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides / When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides / But when a man gets the blues, he catch a freight train and rides.” Smith’s standard blues lyric inhabits what ...

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1 The World and the “Jar”: Jackie Kay and the Feminist Locations of the African Diaspora

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pp. 18-43

Bessie Smith’s first hit, 1923’s “Downhearted Blues,” tells a familiar blues story of love and loss using the strange and fantastic metaphor of “the world,” “a jug,” and “the stopper”: “Got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand / Got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand / Going to hold it, baby, till you come under my command.” These objects form ...

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2 It’s Lonely at the Bottom: Elizabeth Alexander, Deborah Richards, and the Cosmopolitan Poetics of the Black Body

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pp. 44-76

Jamaica’s mythic folkhero Nanny of the Maroons—famed for a story of catching colonial bullets in her bottom and, as described in the first epigraph, returning that fire—stands as a contemporary postcolonial and national hero through this fabulist, if indecent, narrative. The fantastic nature of her story lies in the apparent ridiculousness of its site, its ...

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3 The Drama of Dislocation: Staging Diaspora History in the Work of Adrienne Kennedy and Ama Ata Aidoo

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pp. 77-105

In 2007, Ama Ata Aidoo’s play The Dilemma of a Ghost was staged in London’s Africa Centre, in association with the National Theatre Company of Ghana, as a commemoration of the fiftieth year since Ghana’s independence, and the two hundredth anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade.1 The drama seems an unlikely choice for inclusion in ...

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4 Asymmetrical Possessions: Zora Neale Hurston, Erna Brodber, and the Gendered Fictions of Black Modernity

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pp. 106-141

Zora Neale Hurston begins her 1934 essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression” with an invocation of “drama”—not her own theater pieces or those Difficult Diasporas studied in the previous chapter, but instead the “drama” of black linguistic practice: “Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatized. No matter how joyful or how sad the case there is ...

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5 Intimate Migrations: Narrating “Third World Women” in the Short Fiction of Bessie Head, Zoë Wicomb, and Pauline Melville

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pp. 142-174

Erna Brodber, in an essay ruminating on the stakes of realism in literature and beyond in the Caribbean, tells a brief anecdote of Alexander Bedward, a Jamaican man in the early twentieth century who purportedly tried to fly in emulation of biblical narratives of ascension. Her punchline (of the essay and the anecdote) echoes her genre-bending ...

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6 Impossible Objects: M. NourbeSe Philip, Harryette Mullen, and the Diaspora Feminist Aesthetics of Accumulation

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pp. 175-200

“No language is neutral,” Canadian diaspora poet Dionne Brand flatly states in her 1990 poem and eponymous collection; the innovative realisms of the previous chapter, as well as the various mixed-genre techniques of all of the texts studied in this book, take pains to explicate what, on its surface, seems a basic claim. Literary representation, as ...

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Coda: The Risks of Reading

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pp. 201-208

Sylvia Wynter labels academics the “grammarians of our present epistemolocial order” (D. Scott 2000, 160), an ambivalent position at best that sees critical work as parsing out the rules of knowledge production around race, gender, and location. Ama Ata Aidoo articulates in the first epigraph a similarly unsettling aesthetic role for diaspora women’s writing ...


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pp. 209-231


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pp. 233-264


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pp. 265-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789360
E-ISBN-10: 0814759483
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814759486
Print-ISBN-10: 0814759483

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013