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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 286-288

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Part 2: Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies

Where you from?
"Plum Nelly"
Say what?
You know, plumb out the country and nea'lly in the city.
To market to market
To buy a plum bun.

--epigraph, Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun

Given that much recent work in the field of queer studies has employed and deployed ideas of mapping local and global geographies, how might we conceive of the place of black queer studies? Answering this query is one of the goals of this special issue of Callaloo: A Journal of African and African-American Arts and Letters. If "queer studies" as a category has already raised an entire set of questions and issues for scholars, artists, culture producers and readers to address about identity, sexuality, desire, and gender, "black queer studies" has only upped the ante given the fraught relations among and between these often overlapping kinds of black and queer communities. Drawing its influences from sources such as identity politics, cultural studies, feminist and gender studies, race theory, gay and lesbian studies, masculinity studies and queer studies, "black queer studies" pushes for a greater degree of specificity in both the questions being formulated and on the conclusions being reached at the margins of American society. "Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies" represents an effort on the part of Callaloo and on the part of the editors of this special issue of the journal to pull together some of the most recent voices in order to form a conversation about black queer studies.

We have chosen to call the volume "Plum Nelly" in part because this phrase is multivalent. In black vernacular speech, for example, it can mean "plumb out of the state and nearly out of the world," or as in the epigraph above, can trade on the differences between the country and the city--which also signifies upon Oscar Wilde's sense of the term "bunburying" explicated in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). The complicated practice of being "Ernest in town and Jack in the city" to which bunburying refers represents an explicitly modern form of subjectivity. Like bunburying, then, living in plum(b) nelly suggests that one's state is "in the middle of nowhere," or "an out-of-the-way place," as in "She lives clean out in plum nelly." In more contemporary gay parlance, the term means "extremely effeminate," or "gay beyond a doubt," as in "He is plum nelly!" It is related further to the term "flaming," a sense that is created also by the homonym of the color/fruit "plum." Thus, we take this metaphor as an apt expression and/or representation for thinking about the location of black queer studies.

"Plum Nelly" provides an appropriately useful metaphor for the kind of trans-disciplinary critique that "black queer studies" can offer simultaneously to both queer studies and black studies. Much of the way in which African-American literary and cultural discourse or black anti-racist discourse developed had a good deal to do with a kind of representational or a [End Page 286] representative model of blackness--of ideal blackness in a very DuBoisian "talented tenth" sense. The logic is that blacks have to put their best foot forward and to lead the struggle for liberation by example to both whites and to other blacks, not to mention to a worldwide global audience. As much of black feminism has demonstrated, putting one's best foot forward required a straight-laced male guise as Hazel Carby has argued recently in Race Men. As shown by editor Eric Brandt's 1999 book, Dangerous Lisasons: Blacks, Gays and the Struggle for Equality, the relations between and among these groups and identity categories are fraught with differences. The apportioning of power that has been, traditionally, accorded to "types" of individuals is the constitutional legacy that we must both embrace and battle. Contributions of black gays and lesbians who have been concerned with fighting anti-racist struggles and who have made...


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