We hope this summer 2012 edition of Radical Black Reading can offer some respite from the hurly burly of an increasingly anti-Black World. High up on our list of summer reads is a classic from CLR James, one of The Public Archive’s spiritual mentors. A History of Pan-African Revolt, James’ pioneering account of global Black resistance against colonialism and racism, returns to print this summer. Originally published during a period of activity when James somehow managed to pen The Black Jacobins while translating Boris Souvarine’s biography of Josef Stalin, A History of Pan-African Revolt has been rediscovered, as historian Robin D.G. Kelley notes in its introduction, by successive generations of Black intellectuals and activists. It was published as a FACT monograph in 1938, by Drum & Spear in 1969, by Charles H. Kerr in 1995, and now by Oakland, California’s PM Press. For his part, Kelley has followed up on his astounding biography of Thelonius Monk with a volume that implicitly nods to the transnational politics evoked by James. In Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard), Kelley maps the sonic interchange between jazz and African liberation in the music and thought of pianist Randy Weston, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, drummer Guy Warren, and vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin.
The history of Black Atlantic crossings and African internationalism is also a theme in a crop of recent books, many of which also interrogate the contemporary history of globalization, neoliberalism, and imperialism. Cheryl Higashida’s Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995 (Illinois) examines how writers including Claudia Jones, Lorraine Hansberry, and Audre Lorde grappled with the literary norms of literary forms while forging a global political community. Anthropologist Jemima Pierre’s highly anticipated The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race (Chicago) promises to revise the status of Africa within Black Atlantic discourses while turning the calcified tradition of Africanist anthropology on its head. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza’s peregrinations across the Black World in his In Search of African Diasporas: Testimonies and Encounters (Carolina) provide an eloquent example of a surprisingly rare form of analysis: of the African’s engagement with the African diaspora. Historian Andrew Zimmerman recounts the imperial schemes for the continent launched by the Wizard of Tuskegee in Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton). Peter Dwyer and Leo Zeilig’s edited collection Social Movements and Anti-Globalization in Africa (Haymarket) centers African resistance while describing a counter-history of the present from the perspective of the grassroots. Their volume, alongside Gord Hill’s The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book: From the WTO to the G20 (Arsenal/Pulp), serves as an important primer for the movement. Vijay Prashad’s Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press) analyzes the recent history of revolution, counter-revolution, and military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa through the overthrow of Moamar Qaddaffi and the assault on Libya. In Portraits insurgés, Madagascar 1947 (Vents d’ailleurs), writer Jean-Luc Raharimanana and photographer Pierrot Men commemorate the Malagasy insurgency against a deadly but forgotten French colonialism.
An earlier history of anti-imperial and anti-globalization thought emerges in the writing of the New World Group, a cohort of intellectuals based in the West Indies during the 1960s and 1970s. Founded by Trinidad’s Lloyd Best, the New World Group considered alternative models for post-Independence Caribbean development in the context of the Cold War and against the bitter incursions of multinational capitalism. Their crucial though oft-neglected legacy is assessed in the excellent anthology The Thought of New World: The Quest for Decolonization, edited by Brian Meeks and Norman Girvan and published by Jamaica’s Ian Randle as part of their important Caribbean Reasonings series. The work of the New World Group can also be seen to have its intellectual origins in the anti-slavery and anti-colonial writings examined by Raphael Dalleo in Caribbean Literature and the Public Sphere: From the Plantation to the Postcolonial (Virginia). Dallelo’s reading of the archive of Caribbean letters, however, should be paired with Mimi Sheller’s recovery of the Caribbean’s on-the-ground claims for sovereignty. In her Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom (Duke), Sheller examines the impact of sexual politics and the spheres of intimacy on post-Emancipation Caribbean politics, as do the contributors to Faith Smith’s edited collection Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean (Virginia).
Suzanne Césaire, a figure whose intellectual legacy has been eclipsed, regrettably, by that of her legendary husband, has had a number of her essays translated into English and collated as The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945) (Wesleyan). Césaire’s writings, on questions of colonialism, culture and power, were first published in Vichy-era Martinique in the pathbreaking Negritude journal, Tropiques. Three other journals that have made significant contributions to the study of the Black World have celebrated recent anniversaries. Caribbean Studies, the phenomenal interdisciplinary journal published by the Institute for Caribbean Studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, has just turned fifty, having been launched in 1961. The Afro-Hispanic Review, the bilingual journal of Afro-Hispanic literature and culture founded in 1982 at Howard University and currently edited by literary critic and professor William Luis, recently turned thirty. The Caribbean Writer, based at the University of the Virgin Islands, just published a 640-page silver anniversary issue, edited by poet and critic Opal Palmer Adisa and dedicated to Haiti.
Haiti-wise, Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Haiti-Haitii? Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization (Paradigm), a hybrid study of the psychology of colonialism was translated, published, and promptly fell under the radar without receiving serious consideration. Memoire d’encrier published Michel Soukar’s novel La prison des jours, recounting a story of resistance and repression during the first US occupation of Haiti (1915-1934). Myriam J.A. Chancy’s From Sugar to Revolution: Women’s Visions of Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic (Wilfred Laurier) uses the work of women writers and artists to explore questions of national sovereignty and self-determination. Fifty-years worth of the poetry of Anthony Phelps have been anthologized in Nomade je fus de très vieille mémoire, published by Éditions Bruno Doucey, the Paris-based press that also issued the critical collection Terre de femmes: 150 ans de poésie féminine en Haïti. A Bloom of Stones: A Tri-lingual anthology of Haitian poems after the Earthquake, edited by Kwame Dawes and published by the great independent UK publisher, Peepal Tree Press, is also due out this summer.
In the US, the reassessment, reconsideration, and revision of the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements continues apace. In Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Duke), Erik S. MacDuffie recovers the communities of resistance formed by black women activist intellectuals. An acoustic scrapbook of the history of Black Power can be found in Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 (Fantagraphics). Martha Biondi examines the dilemmas and demands of the Black student revolt of the late 1960s and early 1970s in Black Revolution on Campus (California). Derrick E. White has written an engaging and thoroughly-researched history of the legendary Altanta-based Black activist think-tank, the Institute of the Black World, titled The Challenge of Blackness: The Institute of the Black World and Political Activism in the 1970s (Florida). Michael G. Long has edited more than 150 letters of the Civil Rights movement’s “lost prophet,” Bayard Rustin, and City Lights have published them as I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. Two collections have appeared responding to the late Manning Marable’s depiction of Malcolm X, another prophet of the era, as he emerges in Marable’s Pulitzer-prize winning Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X: Real, Not Invented, edited by Herb Boyd, Ron Daniels, Maulana Karenga and Haki Madhubuti and published by Africa World Press, collates more than thirty responses and reviews of Marable’s book while A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, edited by Jared Ball and Todd Steven Burroughs and published by Black Classic Press, steps up with a searing yet meticulous rejoinder.
As we are seeing the reassessment of the past, we are also witnessing a reconsideration of the present – especially concerning the policies of President Obama. Medea Benjamin, for instance, evokes a harrowing portrait of the new world of modern-day diplomacy, empire, and war in Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (OR Books) while in The Administration of Fear (MIT), Paul Virillio explains how state terror has become a normal part of everyday life. BBC journalist Joanne Smith elicits perspectives on the presidency from a handful of African-American thinkers in Redefining Black Power: Reflections on the State of Black America (City Lights). Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank have edited a collection that brings together fifty-five writers who have critically assessed the Obama presidency from all angles. Their must-read collection is titled Hopeless.
We began with a writer from Trinidad. We may as well end with a writer from Trinidad. Our final recommendation is for Is Just a Movie (Haymarket), Earl Lovelace’s heart-breaking, achingly beautiful, brilliantly funny novel casting post-Black Power Trinidad as a devilishly fraught parangle. Respite, indeed.
Enjoy the summer. Stay cool.
The Public Archive
Image: Aquarius Bookstore, Los Angeles, California (March 24, 1982). Caption: Alfred and Bernice Ligon own the Aquarian Book Shop, probably the oldest black-owned bookstore in Los Angeles. They specialize in a wide range of works mostly by and about black people. Source: UCLA, Special Collections, Young (Charles E.) Research Library [Follow them on twitter: @calisphere]