Where is the Place for Black Atlantic Literature and Authorship?


  • Sophia Jahadhmy Cornell University




Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy


In the wake of Black Atlantic terror, enslavement, colonialism and violence, is there a place for literature? Where is there a place for the author? In other words, to rethink poet Muriel Rukeyser’s question, where is there a place for Black Atlantic literature and authorship? Proposing Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic as the window through which to answer these questions, this essay focuses on the place for/of literature and authorship as Gilroy thinks them through an engagement with Richard Wright’s life and work, and also through the work of other Black Atlantic authors, primarily C.L.R. James, Toni Morrison, Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant. These figures show that the Black Atlantic author must persist in tenaciously writing through and within the violence that defines their experiences, revealing the necessity of such literature and the importance of producing such a literary practice. This essay poses that there is no place for Black Atlantic authorship if the author is not grappling, writing, and “living with,” as Toni Morrison would suggest, the unspeakable violence and absolute terrors of experience—scenes of horror must be (re)made through cultural production or there can be no poesis. This process of transformation amid (dis)location is grounded in the Black Atlantic experience of terror and diaspora, about which Gilroy writes, concluding his final chapter with an analysis of the Jewish diasporic experience. Because this essay engages a Jewish poet’s provocation in order to think the Black Atlantic, it is crucial to interrogate both the significance of this invocation and Gilroy’s assessment of the intimate interconnection and solidarity between the Black and Jewish experiences. 


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