Glenda R. Carpio

Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and of English and American Literature and Language, Harvard University


Fall 2007: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Black Narrative and Poetry from Latin America

Project Description

Black Narrative and Poetry from Latin America

The great majority of the millions of Africans who survived the horrors of the Middle Passage and the trauma of enslavement in the New World remade their lives in territories claimed and nominally ruled by Iberians—either Spanish or Portuguese. This may surprise U.S. readers, who often assume that the powerful narrative of bondage and suffering of nineteenth century American slavery is more representative than it is. American readers may also be surprised to discover that, while plantation slavery was a horrible reality for Africans and their descendants in Latin America, blacks experienced many other realities in Iberian colonies, not only as slaves but also as free subjects and as subversives who fiercely rebelled against their enslavement. This project starts by asking, what constitutes the literary history of this period in the Spanish and English speaking areas of Latin America and the Caribbean? This question is not necessarily new yet it has not been adequately explored. Systematic study of Afro-Hispanic literature is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged with the creation of Black Studies programs in the U.S. in the 1960s. The only general introduction to the field, Richard L. Jackson’s Black Writers in Latin America appeared in 1970, and was followed by the first annotated bibliography of Afro-Hispanic literature, The Afro-Spanish American Author (1980), also authored by Jackson. In 1983, Marvin Lewis published Afro-Hispanic Poetry, the first comprehensive study of nine poets from contemporary Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia and, in 1984, William Luis edited a collection of essays entitled Voices from Under, the first collection of critical essays on blacks from the four major linguistic areas in Latin America: Brazil, the French and English speaking Caribbean and Spanish speaking Latin America. While these publications have introduced readers in the United States to the work of black writers in Latin America, they primarily focus on ideological content, paying scant or no attention to formal concerns while often employing a mimetic theory of writing that posits continuity between the social world and the literary text. Hence, there is still a need to formulate appropriate critical guidelines for evaluating texts of Afro-Hispanic literature and my project will provide such an intervention.

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