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At Home in Diaspora: Black International Writing

Wendy W. Walters
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 206
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsqvt
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  • Book Info
    At Home in Diaspora
    Book Description:

    In At Home in Diaspora, Wendy W. Walters investigates the work of Chester Himes, Michelle Cliff, and other twentieth-century black international writers who have lived in and written from countries they do not call home. Walters suggests that in the absence of a recoverable land of origin, the idea of diaspora comes to represent a home that is not singular or exclusionary._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9680-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Diaspora Consciousness and Literary Expression
    (pp. vii-xxvi)

    In 1940 W. E. B. Du Bois described his booksThe Souls of Black FolkandDarkwateras “written in tears and blood.”Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept, he said, “is set down no less determinedly but yet with a wider hope in some more benign fluid.”¹ In this reference to ink in the opening “Apology” toDusk of Dawn, Du Bois calls our attention to writing as a hopeful space where concepts of race and identity can be expressed. In the following chapters, I will show how ink and the varieties of...

  4. Part I. The Fact of Slavery
    • 1 “On the Clifflike Margins of Many Cultures”: Richard Wright’s Travels
      (pp. 3-26)

      In an article published inEbonymagazine in 1953, Richard Wright tells his interviewer, black American writer William Gardner Smith, about his views on writing and his expatriate life in Paris: “People think . . . that because I’m here, I’m out of touch with the States. I find that the reverse is true. I see the States in better perspective from a distance. The outlines of the Negro struggle, and the shape of the whole society, become more sharply defined.”¹ When Smith presses him on his ability to fight in the “Negro struggle,” Wright replies, “I fight with words....

    • 2 The Postcolonial as Post-Enlightenment: Michelle Cliff and the Genealogies of History
      (pp. 27-56)

      Richard Wright’s travel writing about Africa, when read against his essays on “Negro” national literature, shows us how the author sought in his writing a place free from both the romanticization of Africa as homeland and as the space of suffering for a descendant of slaves. Wright emerges as an international black writer, poised “on the clifflike margins of many cultures,” a result of both his physical journeying and his journeying across the page and across genres. The double displacement of expatriate diasporic writers like Richard Wright, as well as Michelle Cliff, denies an easy nostalgia for an irretrievable homeland...

  5. Part II. From Discrimination and Insult to Homes in Diaspora
    • 3 Harlem on My Mind: Exile and Community in Chester Himes’s Detective Fiction
      (pp. 59-85)

      Chester Himes, an American author who never found a “place” in the American literary scene in his lifetime, wrote his detective novels during his French expatriation, setting them in the nostalgic milieu of a Harlem he half created in his own imagination. In the second volume of his autobiography,My Life of Absurdity: The Later Years, Himes states emphatically, “The Harlem of my books was never meant to be real; I never called it real; I just wanted to take it away from the white man if only in my books” (126). Himes’s detective novels evoke a geographic and social...

    • 4 “A Landmark in a Foreign Land”: Simon Njami’s Parisian Scenes
      (pp. 86-110)

      Stuart Hall describes an inside-out relationship to Europe that is also recalled in the writings of other African diasporic authors, such as James Baldwin in “Stranger in the Village” and Caryl Phillips inThe European Tribe. Simon Njami echoes this multiplicity of identification when he says, “I don’t feel any belonging. And I think it’s partly due to my strange life. Because whenever I say I’m an African I feel like I’m saying a lie. But when I say I’m a European, I feel the same way. Because I’ve never lived in Africa, but I’m an African. I’ve lived all...

    • 5 History’s Dispersals: Caryl Phillips’s Chorus of the Common Memory
      (pp. 111-133)

      The varied oeuvre of black British writer Caryl Phillips traces the multiple and complex meanings of the termdiaspora. Throughout several novels and travelogues, his writing retains a deep skepticism about the meanings of terms like “family” and “membership.” Rather than grant such terms an unquestioned status as key tropes underlying the concept of diaspora, Phillips’s writing excavates the myriad ways that a term like “family” is played out at the level of individual identities. Hence, first-person fictional narratives compose a large part of his novelistic work as he tells specifically local stories about a global phenomenon. Many of Phillips’s...

  6. Epilogue
    (pp. 134-138)

    This epilogue seeks no closure; it aims to secure no singular reading of black international texts. Each text contributes its own multiple meanings to an ongoing project of diaspora literacy. Abena P. A. Busia reminds us that it is the storyteller who defines diaspora community. Through literature, she says, “We learn to translate dividing borders into a diaspora community, to transform a lack of language into diaspora literacy. Such literacy requires shared knowledge, a knowledge of histories, continuities, and discontinuities which only our storytellers in their many guises can give us.”¹ Busia’s words speak to the powers of literary texts...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 139-140)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 141-158)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 159-172)
  10. Index
    (pp. 173-178)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-179)