A couple of caveats concerning our list of ten notable books for 2013: we’ve listed more than ten books and not all of them were published in 2013. While some of the texts mentioned below come from 2012, others were published as early as the 1930s. We also have a stack of excellent recent titles that didn’t make the list but certainly deserve a mention: Rupert Roopnarine’s The Sky’s Wild Noise: Selected Essays and Russell Maroon Shoatz’ collected essays, Latasha Natasha Digg’s Twerk and Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams, Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism and Jose Miguel Palacios’ 9/11/1973: The Public Life of an Endless Day, Lorna Goodison’s Oracabessa and Claremount Chung’s Walter Rodney: A Promise of Revolution – as well as those titles that already appeared on our 2013 Black Radical Reading list and our late 2012 compilation of recent work on Haiti. Caveats aside, here’s the list. All speak with a particular urgency to the Black present – and to the year ahead.
1. Kamau Brathwaite’s “Dream Haiti” is a poem of cruel elegance that renders the ill-fated passage of Haitian migrants across the Florida straits as a bittersweet tale of the travails of Haiti and the African diaspora. It was first published in the fall 1995 issue of Nathanial Mackey’s Hambone, splayed across more than fifty pages and set in Brathwaite’s experimental, acoustic typography, the Sycorax Video Style. In 2007, New Directions Press reprinted “Dream Haiti” as part of the excellent collection DS (2) – Dreamstories. This past year, Memoire d’encrier published Brathwaite’s long poem in French translation as RêvHaïti. While Brathawite has been chastised for his supposed obsession with “the endless purgatorial experiences” of Black people, with thirty eight Haitians drowning near Punta de Maisí, Guantánamo, Cuba on Christmas Day, 2011, thirty off the Bahamas in November, and another eighteen by Turks and Caicos just yesterday, “Dream Haiti” maintains a terrible poignancy.
2. Edited by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas and published by Fahamu Books and Pambazuka Press, the Queer Africa Reader, emerged out of a defining moment in African history: The 2010 charges for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” pressed against Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a Malawaian transgender woman, and Steven Monjeza, her male partner. The charges served to bring the muted discussions among queer African activists, intellectuals, and artists out into the public while spurring Ekine’s and Abbas’ editorial labors. The result is nothing short of path breaking. Combining forty-two essays, testimonies, statements, and stories by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex contributors from across the continent, the Queer Africa Reader challenges the idea of Africa as the “homophobic context” while providing an urgent, engaging, and eloquent account of both the diversity of African LGBTI experience, and of the polyvalent strategies of African queer survival, resistance, and liberation.
3. In Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal, David Austin recovers the critical role played by Montreal as a nexus for Black Power and Caribbean left activism and takes the Canadian state to task for its attempt to undermine Black politics while marginalizing Black Canadian citizenship. Austin, among the foremost chroniclers of West Indian and pan-African political and intellectual histories, argues that Montreal in the late sixties was defined by a public hysteria generated by white fears of Black sexuality, which were used to justify a repressive state of security. Fear of a Black Nation builds on two previous works by Austin: A View for Freedom, an oral history of the St. Vincents-born, Montreal-based cricketer and organizer Alphonso Theodore “Alfie” Roberts, and You Don’t Play with Revolution, an edited collection of CLR James’ Montreal lectures and talks. Together, Austin’s “Montreal trilogy” is necessary reading for understanding the history of Black Montreal – and the history of the African diaspora writ large.
4. Historian Barbara Ranbsy’s Eslanda: The Large Unconventional Life of Mrs Paul Robeson, retrieves Elsanda Goode Robeson from the shadows of her often-over shadowed husband. Eslanda Robeson was tirelessly committed to women’s liberation, anti-racism, and anti-colonialism. She was also a journalist and an anthropologist who trained with Bronislaw Malinowski and wrote the neglected monograph African Journey in 1941. Rambsy recounts Robeson’s intellectual and political career – including her unflinching testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee – while reconstructing the complex contours of her longstanding and unconventional relationship with Mr. Robeson. It’s an engaging history of Black politics – and of Black love.
5. Difficult, disorienting, and disturbingly brilliant, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Studies (Minor Compositions) is an elliptical manifesto for radical self-organization against and independent critique of the carceral geographies of neoliberalism and contemporary whitesupremacy. Reclaiming the Black Radical Tradition from Autonomist politics while rewiring Black Studies through critiques of contemporary governance, Moten and Harney attack liberalism’s normative ideas of education, study, debt, and economy in prose that is unsettling, dissonant, and utterly uncompromised.
6. Jared Ball takes more than just his title from I Write What I Like, Steven Biko’s collection of writings from 1969. In I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto (AK Press), Ball also borrows Biko’s approach to the analytical connection between Black consciousness and Black decolonization and the importance of alternative forms of media in the struggle for Black freedom. For Biko, journalism provided this alternative venue; for Ball, it is the mixtape and in I Mix What I Like, Ball has written a compelling statement on the potential of the mixtape for the transmission and circulation of the radical aesthetics, ideas, and voices shut out of corporate-controlled colonial media. Drawing on theories of internal colonialism and critical studies of the culture industries – on Fanon and Cabral and Zizek and McLuhan – I Mix What I Like is a smart, rangy, and original book whose very form encodes the possibilities it exhorts.
7. If you’re looking for stories of African primitives, villages, tribes, or witchcraft then Jemima Pierre’s The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race (Chicago) isn’t for you. An ethnographic account of contemporary Ghana, The Predicament of Blackness is an innovative and urbane study that rejects the tired vocabularies of imperial anthropology while offering a searing riposte to both those Africanists (the majority of them) who refuse to consider question of race, racism, and whitesupremacy in Africa – and to those African Diaspora Studies scholars who are reluctant to take Africa seriously. If Fanon were trained as an ethnographer, he would write this book. Have the courage to read it.
8. We’ll admit that we knew little about Lucy Parsons until encountering her in the “Communist Women” chapter of Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class. Davis highlights Parsons’ lifetime of labor agitation and advocacy, her writing on behalf of the working class, her position as one of the first women to join the International Workers of the World, her militant defense of her husband, Albert Parsons, one of the martyrs of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket massacre, and her membership in the Communist Party (though she neglects the fact that Parsons was a longtime anarchist). Given this history, it comes as a minor shock that Parsons is not a better-known figure within the pantheons of Black radicalism, though perhaps given its phallocentric nature we shouldn’t be surprised. Either way, we should thank Charles H. Kerr for keeping Parsons’ history and memory in circulation through their publication of Lucy Parsons: Freedom Equality & Solidarity: Writings & Speeches, 1878-1937, edited by Gale Ahrens, and the fictionalized history Dynamite and Roses: Lucy and Albert Parsons and the Haymarket Bombing by Robert Benedetti. At the same time Haymarket Books has republished Carolyn Ashbaugh’s 1976 biography Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary, from which Angela Davis’ drew heavily.
9. Part academic treatise, part personal memoir, Carol Boyce Davies’ genre-breaking and boundary-bending Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from the Twilight Zone is theoretically grounded in the foundational geography and geomorphology of the Antilles. Yet if the archipelagic impulse towards flux, fragmentation, and fluidity has oftentimes led to a silly, apolitical academicism, Davis knows exactly where she comes from – and exactly where she’s at. Recounting a lifetime of migrations from Trinidad to Ibadan and Brooklyn to Brazil, Caribbean Spaces heralds a commitment to Black freedom – both at home and abroad – with insurgent style and righteous grace.
10. Dr. Jean Price-Mars’s two volume master work the La Republique d’Haiti et la Republic dominicaine, is arguably the best source for understanding the historical origins of anti-Haitian racism in the Dominican Republic and the ideological origins of the recent denationalization ruling of the Dominican constitutional court. Unfortunately, it isn’t available in English and both the Spanish and French translations are out of print. You can, however download both volumes of the French here. Or you can look at three other texts that illuminate the fraught legacies of Haitian-Dominican relations. Historian Pedro L. San Miguel’s The Imagined Island: History, Identity, and Utopia in Hispaniola (University of North Carolina) has an excellent chapter outlining Price-Mars’ arguments – and recounting the responses to it. Silvio Torres Saillaint’s Introduction to Dominican Blackness [pdf], published by CUNY’s Dominican Studies Institute, provides what is perhaps the best account of the problem of whiteness and the fact of Blackness within Dominican society and history. Finally, last summer, Petionville, Haiti publishers C3 Editions issued Identité dominicaine et racisme anti-haïtien, an unpublished monograph by the late Dominican historian Franklin Franco Pichardo. All three monographs provide a necessary intellectual ballast in support of Dominicans of Haitian descent facing the uncertain waters of the coming year.
Image: Librairie africaine à Yaoundé, Cameroun (1950/1970): Source: La bibliothèque du Défap-Service protestant de mission