• In Race Against Empire, Penny M. Von Eschen’s chapter, “No Exit: From Bandung to Ghana,” highlighted various international conferences that occurred throughout the world in the mid-1950s. She highlights confe […]

    • Hi Charlene, thanks for this thoughtful blog post. I am intrigued by the complexity of historical voices we hear in both the von Eschen book and in the Robeson movie. It’s clear that communism had Black and white adherents and detractors, there was no unitary position, and that, as Robeson’s son notes, once confronted with Stalinism, his father had to make compromised choices and thought Soviet communism superior to alt-right white supremacist racism–but he himself did not join the CP and did not call himself a member of the CP. Sometimes, in hindsight, history flattens. Not in this case!

    • Charlene,

      There certainly were many actors on the world’s stage during this period, all of whom with their own motives and perspectives with respect to the Cold War. I love your comment about how “[t]his conference was seen as an indication that the world was not as concerned about the fighting between the United States and Russia as many may have thought. Rather, the concerns plaguing a wide variety of communities of color all over the world was of higher importance.” Truly with so many countries liberating themselves from the chains of colonization, why should these self-described “non-aligned” and “Third World” countries bother with the feuding happening between the United States and the Soviet Union? These conferences were vital in imagining a different world outside the present and previous hegemonic structures. I wonder what could have happened had there been a chance for more conversation – and action – to occur?

  • In Ann Petry’s The Novel, the scene between media executive Peter Bullock and the photographer Jubine brilliantly showcases the class and cultural conflict between an executive and a worker – a free thinker and a […]

    • Hi Charlene, This is so thoughtful. I also love the way, near the end of The Narrows, Petry reverses this so now we go inside Bullock’s head and he both analyzes Jubine–and his wife. If she chides his morality, he blames his actions on her acquisitiveness. She wanted the fancy Danish modern house in the best part of town, not the old family home he inherited along with the family paper. He has to pay her bills; she has no children and yet many servants whereas his family had many children and only one servant–a miniature analysis of escalating class demands and, I bet Petry would note, a factor in income inequality. If “things” cost a lot–including a good school district or a private school–then one has to earn more money, have a different relation to the corporate ruling class, and therefore also a different relation to influence, power, policing, justice, all that. Her analysis of gender, love, lust, marriage, and capital is one of the most persuasive I have seen in all of literature. Thanks for these insights. If you are casting about for a final paper, this blog post could easily be the basis for a great paper. Wonderful thinking and close reading, Charlene! –Cathy Davidson

    • Hi Charlene–I agree with Cathy: this post can inspire a really compelling paper. What will a person do for money? And, given Bullock’s power to control the news, and thus access to reliable information, I wonder what is he willing to trade in exchange for his class status? As I think about Jubine’s function as a character in the novel, I think about art’s undeniable influence (Petry herself makes the case for art and its ethical influence in her “The Novel as Social Protest” (1950)). Jubine’s photos shape public opinion, and it exposes The Chronicle for its lack of journalistic ethics, most notably its willingness to pander to rich investors like the Treadways. And, given Jubine’s ease with black people, poor people, etc. his work claims a value beyond money–it not only offers counternarratives to racist, establishment thinking, but it also disregards social hierarchy to invite alternative ways of seeing and thinking. Consider this moment late in the novel, when Jubine’s photos accompany a story in a New York paper and not in The Chronicle: “Jubine had tried the case, handed in a verdict, with his goddam pictures” (365). Now even the Judge who is a friend of the Treadways “managed to express doubt of Camilo’s innocence” (369). For me, all this suggests the power of art as a form of dissent.

    • This is an interesting post. You write, “A man who makes beautiful art, who simply depicts life as it is, to Bullock and to many other mainstream Americans at that time period, were considered communists.” While we can see how insidious that type of thinking was at that time, I believe that it is also prevalent today with embattled American journalists. When they dare to depict life as it is in politics, especially within the White House, they are demonized. Though they are not called Communists, they work is treated with the dreaded phrase “Fake News”. It makes you wonder how far we have truly come as a “democratic” society.

    • Charlene,
      I appreciate your close reading of just one brief scene and yet from this one brief scene capture not only many nuances of character revealed in the scene, but also many possible authorial intentions (e.g. who is free and who is not, who really sees reality?) and many possible revelations of the contextual zeitgeist of that time too (e.g. that anything challenging cultural norms, or that anything anticapitalist, was affiliated with communism, reflexively).

  • Paule Marshall’s 1959 Brown Girl, Brownstones beautifully tells the complicated story of a young Barbadian woman’s life and relationship with her mother. Marshall’s description of the book indicates that the novel […]

    • Charlene,
      I truly love this response. Bravo. I also suspected something was odd about the repeating def article “the” mother, but I couldn’t quite get a good grip on it, the connect -the- dots- to- subconscious reading of it like in this response.
      (p.s. in the last sentence did you mean “better than she, and she no better than her”? or am I not understanding the “matter than she, and she not better than her”?)
      Your last sentence is deceptively powerful. Thanks,

    • Yes, the question of the mother in this novel is deep. Much to think about and put this into conversation with.

    • Hi Charlene, I am so pleased someone took on the term “mother” in the book and thanks, Luis, for reminding us it is never “her” or “my” but “the mother.” “The mother” is one of the oldest archetypes in all literature but Marshall deconstructs that archetype, helping us to see its origins, and the way poverty, ambition, immigrant status, reputation, marriage, adultery, and many other factors alter what it means to be “the mother.” Silla’s different relationships to her more passive daughter and her activist, always-on-the-fight daughter is another way for Petry to show “the mother” is actually many things and is herself acted upon not just an actor. Thanks for these insights!–Cathy Davidson

    • You write: “It is the mother with whom Selina sympathizes, and it is the mother to whom she ultimately seeks approval and acceptance.” This is true of so many of us, whether we wish to admit it or not. Selina’s emotions are real and raw and she is the one of the most honest characters in the novel. You then write: “Selina understands that her mother was ultimately no matter than she, and she no better than her. Upon this realization, Selina is made free.” It is encouraging to believe that in the end, Selina is free. May we all attain freedom.

    • I agree with you when you state, “It is the mother with whom Selina sympathizes, and it is the mother to whom she ultimately seeks approval and acceptance.” I get a sense a pity also for Silla and I believe it is the same pity that Selina has for her. It’s her mother and, like many of us, she just wants to make momma proud. Additionally, I don’t think we ever lose that connection to our mothers and Selina is no different. She feels for her mother and at some point, realizes, as the audience does, that the brownstone, not Selina’s accomplishments, is the only thing that will make her happy.

  • Jimmy is introduced to the reader as a convict with a deliberately calloused exterior,  which he uses to avoid emotional distraction and responsibility for his actions. We are introduced to him as he is […]

    • Hi Charlene,
      I really like your reflection–your interpretation of his emerging sexuality, and your observation of his recurrent alternation between extremes of states is interesting, such as that between attraction and repulsion in the sexuality of his encounters with other men, or how the presence or absence of love so severely alters his priorities regarding freedom and of bearing continued incarceration. Very real.
      Yours is a very humanist reading of the character’s actions, and one that is just as real even though it is so different from what first impacted me in the story.

    • Hi Charlene,

      I love this sentence: “In Chester Himes’ writing, Jimmy comes alive when he is in love, and so does Himes’ writing.” It really is as if Jimmy’s pulse quickens–and so does Himes’s–when he meets and falls in love with Rico. The attraction/repulsion is described with such honest passion. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this, and I find it astonishing that this novel is all but absent in American literature courses, African American literature courses, queer literature courses, gender courses, prison literature courses. I’ll never forget the experience of reading it, being stunned at every page. Best, Cathy

    • When you say, “We are introduced to him as he is introduced to the prison” it stirs a feeling that I had as I read “Yesterday Will make You Cry.” That feeling is that we are going through this WITH Jimmy. He doesn’t know this but he isn’t alone. We experience everything he experiences. From beginning to end we think with him. We think he must remain tough to make it in prison because that is what we have been taught. We may even think he must withhold his true identity. We fall in love when he falls in love. Chester Himes really helps to put us in Jimmy’s shoes which is one point that I find fascinating about this text.

  • In Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, Simone Brown analyzes the surveillance of black people throughout society and over time and acts of resistance to this racialized surveillance.  “Surveillance is […]

    • Great! Yes, Brown shows how surveillance, in and of itself, is a process of racialization. Great observations.

  • William Maxwell’s “Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-Read African American Writing” shines a light on Hoover’s Total Literary Awareness campaign in the FBI and its racist screening of Black writers […]

    • Hi Charlene, Thanks for this and thanks for letting us know you wouldn’t be in class last night. As it turned out, neither Flora nor Chelsea were either. Please make sure you check in with Damele, the only one there, so your Group can move ahead. Your blog post is excellent and raises issues that I know we’ll be looking at again: “However, the agent expressed concern over Hansberry’s depiction of Africa, concerns that, according to Maxwell, made their way all the way to the Einsenhower Administration and impacted U.S.-Africa policy.” That conduit of artist/FBI surveillance/US policy abroad is going to be a major theme throughout the class. You’ll find that we took fairly extensive collaborative notes on the class Google Doc so you can see what you missed–much of it in this direction. See you next week. Take care!

    • Thanks for this, Charlene. I imagine there’s a way to tie where the FBI does and does not locate queerness within its surveillance subjects, and the way that’s coded in the files (Lorraine Hansberry’s “Italian cut” hairstyle; the repeated reiterations, without comment, of Baldwin’s comment’s on his own sexuality) to the way that the State continued its construction of a homosexual subject at that time. Within the references you included in your blog post and in Maxwell’s writings, that construction definitely appears as a work-in-progress that was being processed through the surveillance and recording of coded-to-overt referents. And I guess the same could be said of their construction of a black internationalist subject! The vision is so limited/ing in either case.