10 Books for 2015

Mayme A. Clayton, portrait, 1973

1. Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism (Black Classic Press). Thanks and praise are due to Black Classic Press for reissuing Garvey and Garveyism, Amy Jacques Garvey’s remarkable biography of her husband, the Jamaican pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Originally self-published in Kingston, Jamaica in 1963, Garvey and Garveyism is among the most lucid and inspired accounts of the rise and fall of the man and movement. But it is much more than a straightforward history of a “great man” of Black nationalism. Garvey and Garveyism is also the testimony of a woman who, in failing health and with diminishing resources, shouldered the everyday logistical burdens of the single greatest Black political organization in history while upholding its long-term legacy. As such Garvey and Garveyism is a heart-wrenching and bittersweet story of pan-African love and struggle.

2. Lester K. Spence, Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics (Punctum Books). Lester K. Spence’s Knocking the Hustle is the book many of us have long been waiting for. Spence analyzes contemporary racism through the lens of hardnosed political-economic critique while offering a radical interpretation of neoliberalism that accounts for the structuring forces of whitesupremacy. Brilliantly caustic and eminently readable, Knocking the Hustle unravels the culture of insecurity, precarity, and dismal entrepreneurialism that has marked out the terrain of Black political life in a world completely turned over to the market. Necessary reading.

3. Project Nia, Chiraq and its and  Meaning(s) (Half Letter Press) and Baltimore Teens, The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary (Research and Destroy). Two monographs from independent publishers offer a welcome alternative to the banality and market-driven backwardness of mainstream, corporate media while speaking to the critical importance of Black community control over representation. Edited by educator and activist Miriame Kaba and the youth justice organization Project Nia, Chiraq and its Meaning(s) is a moving and sharply poignant compilation of statements documenting how young Chicagoans view and interpret their city and its largely negative representations. Meanwhile, The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary – a compilation of tweets from Baltimore youth beginning the day of Freddie Gray’s death – is a smart, raw, and eloquent statement from a group too often derided, as “thugs.”

4. Mia E Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara Savage, Eds., Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (UNC). Comprised of fifteen essays by Black woman historians and literary scholars, Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women recovers the neglected, marginalized, and often-times dismissed intellectual production of Black women thinkers from across the African Diaspora. Included are essays on Black women writers and educators, religious leaders and social reformers — a group who, taken together, shatters the traditional parameters of intellectual history while forging a radical intellectual tradition. Pathbreaking.

5.Frantz Fanon, Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, Jean Khalfa et Robert J.C. Young, eds. (Éditions La Découverte). While the past year has witnessed the publication of a stunning number of new studies on the life and thought of Frantz Fanon, arguably the most important is the volume Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert J.C. Young. Compiling Fanon’s psychiatric writings in a single volume, Écrits reinforces Fanon’s reputation as a critic of colonialism while demonstrating his literary agility across genres. Included in the volume are Fanon’s doctoral thesis, essays and commentary from the newspaper of the Blida-Joinville Hospital (where he served from 1952-1956), occasional pieces from the FLN newspaper El Moudjahid, and a number of plays. An extraordinary study of the connections between clinical praxis and revolutionary praxis, Écrits adds weight to the case for Fanon’s continuing importance.

6. Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Cornell). Political scientist Robert Vitalis has turned from his studies of the Middle East to write a trenchant history of the birth of US international relations and the counterculture of Black thought that accompanied it. In White World Order, Black Power Politics, Vitalis demonstrates the role of racist thinking – from evolutionary theory to social Darwinism to racial anthropology — in the emergence of twentieth century US foreign policy doctrine. A the same time, he shows how a constellation of scholars at Howard University, including Alain Locke, Ralph Bunche, Rayford Logan, Eric Williams, and Merze Tate (the first Black woman professor of political science in the United States), contributed to not only the early history of Black Studies and African Studies – but attempted to establish an institutional and intellectual edifice for a radical Black Internationalism. Written with energy and verve, White World Order, Black Power Politics recovers a critical chapter in the counterhegemonic history of Black Atlantic thought.

7. Dagmawi Woubshet, The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of Aids (Johns Hopkins). Dagmawi Woubshet’s The Calendar of Loss is a stunning and much-needed tribute to those who died in the dark, early days of the AIDS epidemic. Woubshet reads the archives of the writers, poets, and performance artists of the eighties and nineties, giving pride of place to the brilliant, elegiac political and aesthetic interventions of figures including Melvin Dixon, Thomas Glave, and the neglected Haitian-American poet Assotto Saint. Sorrow songs, elegies and obituaries are Woubshet’s texts in this book of mortuary hermeneutics, but so too are the art of AIDS orphans from his native Ethiopia. Together, they combine for an astonishing meditation on mourning – and a fitting tribute to the dead.

8. Edward Paulino, Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign Againt Haiti, 1930-1961 (Pittsburgh). Edward Paulino’s Dividing Hispaniola is an inquiry into the modern history of antihaitianismo in the Dominican Republic that demonstrates the importance of Dominican class relations in shaping the national cultures of race during the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo. Paulino shows how an urban elite, supported by US imperialism, mobilized an anti-Haitian sentiment for their own economic interests in conjunction with the demonization of what Trujillo cast as a creeping, belligerent, and degenerate Haitian state – a state that threatened Dominican whiteness. Dividing Hispaniola offers a serious, deeply researched account of the origins of modern-day Haitian-Dominican relations and the contemporary crisis of citizenship faced by Dominicans of Haitian descent – and of Black Dominicans – that upends the poorly formulated liberal stories of an inter-island squabble among estranged siblings.

9. Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (UNC). The recent history of capitalism vogue amongst historians of the United States has belatedly discovered a link between capitalism and slavery. It has not, however, realized the place of Black women in the history of slavery and capitalist accumulation – or the writing by Black women on the history of capitalism. To that end, Sarah Haley’s No Mercy Here is a timely, astute, and provocative intervention. Drawing on the historiography of Black feminism, Haley examines the lives and labor of Black women in Jim Crow Georgia, focusing on the regimes of terror, violence, and incarceration that shaped their worlds and defined their incorporation into the market economy. In gut-wrenchingly vivid prose, Haley also unearths the histories of Black women’s resistance to racial capitalism and patriarchal subordination – sweeping aside, in the process, much of the work on the history of capitalism that has come before her. Crucial.

10.  Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, Eds. (SUNY). What can be said about Barbara Smith? Over more than forty years she has cemented her reputation as an activist, organizer, editor, scholar, and writer. She was a founding member of the National Black Feminist Organization, the Combahee River Collective, and Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She edited the anthology Home Girls and contributing in no small measure to the theoretical development of Black Studies, Black Feminist Studies, and Black Queer Studies. In Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn me Around editors Alethia Jones and Virgnia Eubanks have compiled a collection of interviews, oral histories, editorials, essays, and statements that document every moment of Smith’s political and intellectual history. It’s an incredible archive of Smith’s work, one whose lessons and insights are as important to understanding the Black struggles of the past as they are to those of the present.

Mentions: Max U. Duvivier, Trois etudes sur l’occupation Americaine d’Haiti (1915-1934) (Memoir D’encrier). Paolo Friere, Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau (Bloombsury). Aisha Finch, Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-44 (UNC). Brian Meeks, Critical Interventions in Caribbean Theory and Politics (Mississippi). Natasha Lightfoot, Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation (Duke). Robert A. Hill, Ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume XIII: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1921-1922 (Duke). Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec: L’armée indigene: La défaite de Napoléon en Haïti (Lux éditeur) Nelson A. Denis, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s colony (Nation Books). Dawn Lundy Martin, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life (Nightboat). The Mandeeq.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. 2013. Radical Black Cities: 2012. 2015.

Image: Mayme A. Clayton, Portrait, 1973, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Library, UCLA.

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  • […] Dagmawi Woubshet’s The Calendar of Loss (Johns Hopkins, 2015) examines the politics of mourning in the early years of the AIDS epidemic both in the United States and Ethiopia. The book details the ways in which early AIDS mourners used poetry, obituaries, visual art, and direct action protest both to commemorate loved ones and to challenge the apathy of a society that seemed all too willing to turn a blind eye to the epidemic. Throughout, Woubshet reads the work of black and white gay men alike through the lens of “black mourning” to draw out connections between AIDS activism and African-American culture, from the sorrow songs to Reagan-era hip hop. In this way, The Calendar of Loss places the experiences of black gay men, who have been hit hardest by the epidemic, at the center of the story of AIDS politics in the United States. For this contribution, The Public Archive recently named The Calendar of Loss one of its Top 10 Books of 2015. […]

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