Radical Black Reading, 2011


While post-Black vapors have intoxicated contemporary culture, many of our favorite books of 2011 were part of a wave of scholarship that re-evaluated the Black Arts Movement and the Black Power era and took a second look at a long-ago time when “black” was still Black. In Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (Minnesota), Alondra Nelson provides a smart and timely evocation of the Black Panther Party’s forgotten community health care initiatives. Art historian Kellie Jones’ lavish Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980 (Prestel) was published alongside an exhibition of the same name that was part of Pacific Standard Time, a sprawling multisite project on postwar LA art. Howard Rambsy’s The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry (Michigan) offered an innovative and exciting approach to Black Arts print culture while in Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry, poet Evie Shockley (Wesleyan) explored experimentation and form in Black radical verse.

Yet Black Power and Black Arts were not the only examples of black radicalism that came across our desk in 2011. With its stylish and spirited ethnography of everyday life and everyday desire among Afro-Cubans in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, anthropologist Jafari S. Allen’s ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba (Duke) demonstrated how quotidian gestures can embody the most radical practices. Minkah Makalani reconsidered the transnational activism of Black Communists including CLR James, George Padmore, and Cecil Briggs in In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939 (UNC). Stephen M. Ward compiled the writings of Detroit autoworker and political philosopher James Boggs in Pages from a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader (Wayne State). Louis A. Parascandola continued his fantastic work resuscitating the legacy of the enigmatic Guyanese writer Eric Walrond, co-editing, with Carl A. Wade, In Search of Asylum: The Later Writings of Eric Walrond (Florida).

Let’s not forget the independents. 2011 saw a number of wonderful releases from those presses that have fought to forge a public discourse on Black politics and Black culture that is unencumbered by either corporate imperatives or academic distractions. Black Classic Press continued their righteous mission of keeping Black history’s sacred volumes in press by re-issuing Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Pambazuka, who gave us an incredible dossier on the anniversary of Frantz Fanon’s death, released Jacques Depelchin’s Reclaiming African History, a slender but powerful volume on the history and political economy of pan-African dispossession. They also published Africa Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions, a compendium edited by Firoze Manji and Sokari Ekine examining the 2011 uprisings from the perspective – finally – of Africa. The legendary Présence Africaine published Moïse Udino’s meditation on the condition of Antilleans in France, Corps noirs, têtes républicaines: le paradoxe antillais. While London’s Peepal Tree Press has made available the Selected Poems of Una Marson, the great West Indian poet, publisher, broadcaster, and pan-Africanist.

Earlier in the year, our Reading Haiti post highlighted some of the notable volumes published on Haiti since the earthquake – but we completely passed over the titles of independent Montreal publishing house Mémoire d’encrier. Certainly among the most exciting publishers in North America, and rapidly emerging as critical platform for writers from the global south, in the past year alone Mémoire d’encrier has published Rapjazz: Journal d’un paria, Frankéttiene’s poetic meander through Port-au-Prince, Dany Laferrière’s earthquake memoir Tout bouge autour de moi, and Refonder Haiti edited by Pierre Buteau, Rodney Saint-Éloi and Lyonel Trouillot. Refonder Haiti brings together more than forty Haitian writers and thinkers addressing the question of reconstruction.*

Two other assessments of post-earthquake Haiti are due out early in 2012: Haiti: the Aftershocks of History (Metropolitan) by historian and Duke University Haiti Lab co-director Laurent DuBois, and the mammoth anthology Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Quake (Stylus/Kumarian), edited by anthropologist Mark Schuller and NACLA editor Pablo Morales. The contributors to Tectonic Shifts address questions of neoliberalism and disaster capitalism, resettlement and forced evictions, and women’s rights and public health – all of which move us far beyond the vapid pronouncements of a post-black condition.

All best for the New Year.

The Public Archive


*Thanks to @bulldozia for drawing our attention to these texts.

Image: “The House of Common Sense, the Home of Proper Propaganda,” Lewis Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore, 125th St. and Seventh Avenue Harlem (1964). Source: Uptown, Saturday Night. Also, this.

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