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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

 | 
Judith Misrahi-Barak
, 
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Negotiations and Passages

New Transatlantic Passages: African Immigrant Writers and Contemporary Black Literature in America1

Corinne Duboin

Résumé

The rise of globality and the arrival of non-European immigrants in North America over the past several decades have changed the contours of the United States as a multicultural nation. This paper will concentrate on first- and second-generation African immigrant writers who have recently emerged as new black voices in multiethnic American literature. We will examine the way they articulate new transcultural subjectivities. Through their fictional works, these displaced artists-such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu, or Chris Abani-offer new perspectives on the myths and realities of Africa and North America, addressing the vexed questions of race and national identity. Given their growing presence and success on the literary scene, we need to explore how these writers contribute to the rich diversity of an African Diaspora aesthetic. We aim to focus on similarities, overlaps and differences between this emergent transnational literature and a well-established African American literary tradition so as to gain more insight into the recent ramifications of black fiction and its evolving canons.

Texte intégral

  • 1 My presentation focuses on a new research project that aims to examine the fictional works of first (...)
  • 2 According to Aaron Terrazas, ’more than 75 % of the African foreign born in the United States have (...)
  • 3 These statistical facts contradict stereotypical images of Blacks in the U.S., and more specificall (...)

1The rise of globality and the arrival of non-European immigrants in North America over recent decades have changed the contours of the United States as a multicultural nation. Indeed, patterns of migration and transnational dispersal have evolved with the recent arrival of Africans.2 Multiple politico-economic factors have contributed to this new wave of immigration that intersects with the global displacements of other diasporic communities from Third-World and emerging nations. The majority of those African émigrés are college-educated, belong to the middle class and have chosen to leave Africa (or Europe for some) to seek social and professional advancement.3 Others were forced to migrate as refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing poverty, dictatorship, civil wars and genocides or ethnic cleansing.

2This foreign-born black population does not form a monolithic minority. It comprises a number of different nationalities and ethnic groups in particular postcolonial contexts of migration. As such, beyond the shared experience of being black in white America, they have to be distinguished from Caribbean Americans and native-born African Americans who are the heirs to a colonial history in the New World and the descendants of enslaved Africans who made the traumatic Middle Passage. Besides, African Americans have contributed to the making of the nation-state. Their syncretic culture, deeply rooted in American history, is the collective expression of a distinct experience that structures an alternative national narrative.

  • 4 In Against Race, Paul Gilroy also underlines the tenuous relationship between Africa and the black (...)

3Contemporary transnational mobilities within the Black Atlantic result in renewed processes of hybridization. They not only produce more diversity within the black diaspora, but they also generate new interethnic, multicultural connections. The presence of African newcomers forging their own paths toward ’new ethnicities’ (Hall 1996), new identities negotiated across national, racial and cultural lines, complexifies the concept of black or African diaspora in America. Its ongoing mutations and its increased diversification give rise to multiple, divergent perspectives on the sense of home and belonging. For African-born diasporic subjects, postin-dependence Africa is not a mythical land, an imagined ancestral location that is deeply engrained in their collective memory. Nor is it a faraway continent of which they know little and have a distorted perception shaped by the media.4 Instead, it is a lived space, a native land they left behind and that they remember from childhood, while America is initially constructed in their minds as an idealized land of freedom and opportunity.

4In terms of literary production, the recent novels and short stories by African writers who have migrated to the U.S. contribute to black fiction created out of an American experience. Through their fictional works, these displaced artists offer new perspectives on the myths and realities of Africa and North America, addressing the vexed questions of race and national identity. Given their growing presence and success on the literary scene, we need to examine how these writers participate in the rich diversity and evolution of African Diaspora aesthetics, and look at the way they explore new avenues of fiction writing and imagine narratives that stem from and comment upon their experience of displacement. I aim to focus on similarities, overlaps and differences between this emergent transnational literature (alongside with other ethnic writings) and a well-established African American literary tradition, ’focusing attention equally on the sameness within differentiation and the differentiation within sameness’, to use Gilroy’s words (125), so as to gain more insight into the recent ramifications of black fiction and its evolving canons.

5In order to examine the poetics of migration in narratives of African writers from the diaspora, I have selected three works of fiction that deal with the African experience of America. The authors are Ethiopian-born Dinaw Mengestu as well as Chris Abani and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, both Nigerian-born.

6Dinaw Mengestu was two-years old when he fled his homeland with his family in 1980 and joined his exiled father who had escaped the Communist revolution. Mengestu grew up in Illinois before his family settled in Washington, D.C. He has recently moved to France and now lives in Paris.

  • 5 Hereafter BT. The novel was published in the U.K. as Children of the Revolution (Jonathan Cape, 200 (...)

7His début novel, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2007)5 tells the story of an insecure Ethiopian immigrant, Sepha Stephanos, who fled the Red Terror after his father had been beaten and arrested by soldiers on suspicion of subversion and had later died under mysterious circumstances. Sepha now owns an ailing corner store in a gentrifying black neighborhood of Washington, D.C. After seventeen years of a solitary life filled with nostalgia, long-held frustrations and disappointments, Sepha flirts with his new white neighbor Judith, a divorced professor of American History, and befriends her young biracial daughter Naomi. Through their fragile and short-lived relationship across boundaries of race, class, and age that brings solace and false hope to Sepha, the novelist portrays African immigrant life and offers an insightful critique on multiethnic and multiracial America.

  • 6 The character is ironically named Franklin Henry Adams: ’The name was so decidedly American, so qui (...)

8The main setting of the novel is Logan Circle, a historically black enclave in transition. Once a thriving center of the African American community that has been moving out to the suburbs, the neighborhood has become a slum and has turned to be a major hub for African immigrants who bought property and started businesses. Its recent upscale remodeling has attracted white middle-class homeowners, pushing out longtime, low-income, black residents. Mengestu’s fictional reconstruction of Logan Circle as a site of fluctuating social interactions is rich with meaning. ’The neighborhood’s changing, things are changing, ... nothing is permanent, everything changes’, ponders Sepha who finds himself in a precarious situation (BT, 23). His failing business and final eviction, Judith’s renovated house that burnt down and the arrest of a bitter African American neighbor for arson6 hint at the author’s moral and political preoccupations about persistent inequalities, the racial and class divide that maintains a vulnerable African diaspora at the margins, always displaced.

9Mengestu interrogates the sense of ’home’ and explores the themes of black dislocation, alienation and in-betweenness that contribute to shaping a new and somewhat awkward transnational self. Sepha is an exile who struggles to survive and start a new life: ’How was I supposed to live in America when I had never really left Ethiopia?’ he wonders. ’I wasn’t, I decided. I wasn’t supposed to live here at all’ (BT, 140). He will eventually come to the conclusion that ’a man stuck between two worlds lives and dies alone. I had dangled and been suspended long enough’ (BT, 228). Sepha’s autodiegetic narrative that looks back at his journey from Ethiopia to America is a search for meaning and a way of reclaiming his unwritten history: ’Narrative. Perhaps that’s the word that I’m looking for. Where is the grand narrative of my life? The one I could spread out and read for signs and clues as what to expect next’ (BT, 147).

10Sepha’s retrospective account, that keeps shifting from past to present, from Washington, D.C. to Addis Ababa, is a fictional story about the problematic repositioning of the immigrant, about forced expatriation, the trauma of a haunting past, grief for a lost home he will never return to, the inability to truly integrate American society and succeed economically. Yet, there are other concerns voiced by the author. More largely, Mengestu questions the American ethos from the standpoint of the African émigré. He is not inclined to a facile Manichean, binary opposition between the tyrannies of despotic regimes in Africa and the virtues of Western democracy. The writer, who mentions Tocqueville and Emerson, deconstructs the deceptive myth of the American dream and makes a critical evaluation of the compelling values of liberal democracy: freedom, equality, progress, self-reliance and individualism. Mengestu maps out America’s paradoxes through his fictional reconfiguration of a fragmented city. He opposes the social instability of Logan Circle on the verge of chaos to the permanence of the capital city’s monuments and institutional buildings that testify to the nation’s unshaken founding principles: ’the statue of General Logan’, ’the Capitol’s white dome, ... the White House’, ’Lincoln’s and Jefferson’s Memorials’ (BT, 16; 46; 142). The novelist points at the inconsistencies that weaken a political system in which equality is more a concept, a construct, than a social reality. Judith’s selfish desire to possess a large house-that reminds Sepha of Gatsby’s Gothic mansion (BT, 211)-and to make a capital investment in a black district contradicts her ideological discourse on race relations.

11The author also underlines the shortcomings of life in a frenetic and consumerist society exclusively turned toward the future while it refuses to confront its troubled past that informs the uncertainties of the present. The novel’s protagonist, who believed that he would achieve individual self-improvement and who was naively romantic about Judith, has become a disenchanted man, a cynical fatalist: ’I think to myself, America is beautiful after all. There is more here. Gas is cheap. This is not a bad place. Things could be worse. And what else could I have done?’ (BT, 5).

12The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is about the grueling process of becoming American. While discussing his book, Mengestu actually rejected the immigrant novel genre as a problematic literary category that marginalizes ’ethnic’ texts instead of incorporating them into America’s cultural mix: ’I wouldn’t say that this is an African novel, or African-American novel. To me, it’s a novel about America, with all its competing and sometimes conflicting identities’ (’An Interview’ 2007: Book Browse website). His dual sense of self, ’never wholly identifying with one category’, has shaped his work (’An Interview’). However, he argues that his writing is included into the Western canon: ’I write out of the American literary tradition; the writers I have grown up with and the writers I’m aware of when I’m thinking about my own writing are European and American’ (’The Q & A’ 2011: The Economist on line).

  • 7 The novel’s title is taken from the final lines of Canto XXXIV in ’Inferno’
    (l. 136-139).
  • 8 See Olopade’s comparative study of Mengestu’s and Naipaul’s novels and their ’critiques of capitali (...)

13The author categorizes his novel along national lines as a way of asserting his own Americanness. Yet, his writing crosses the borders of continents and cultures, thus demonstrating the porosity of national boundaries and the hybrid formation of cultural identities in a multipolar world. Sepha’s multilayered narrative is inspired by, and revisits, Western classics from medieval Italian literature to modern American or Irish, as well as Caribbean hypo-texts that all delve into the themes of exile and wandering, and are the works of displaced artists: Dante’s Divine Comedy,7 Emily Dickinson’s poems, Naipaul’s Bend in the River,8 Joyce’s Ulysses or Bellow’s Herzog. Through the many transnational and transatlantic literary passages he undertakes, Mengestu weaves together an intricate web of narratives that connects Africa, America and Europe.

  • 9 In Edwidge Danticat’s ’Caroline’s Wedding’ (Krik? Krak!), the narrator, a second-generation Haitian (...)

14The text that has the most resonance is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Sepha’s and Naomi’s bonding ritual, sitting behind the counter of his grocery store and reading the book aloud, exemplifies the healing power of words, imagination and storytelling. It also helps Sepha reconnect with his past embodied by his lost father who used to tell him stories that are now his only heritage.9 Sepha has memorized his favorite passage: ’If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days’ (BT, 188). As a diasporic subject, Sepha insists on the importance of remembering where he comes from: preserving the past, passing on stories and experiences, keeping memories alive as inner resources are forms of survival and salvation in the present.

  • 10 Sepha’s father was killed by the soldiers who had found political flyers that his son had brought h (...)
  • 11 The eldest Karamazov brother, Dmitri has to flee to America. Dostoevsky himself also endured exile: (...)

15Besides, Mengestu’s fiction also mirrors the Russian novel. The author recontextualizes its messages and themes: the father-son relationship; the father’s death and the son’s moral guilt,10 the burden of exile,11 and the possibility of redemption, ’the beginnings of a new life’ (BT, 154). The textual resurgences of Mengestu’s writing attest to his claim of multiple, hybrid (af) filiations. The Americanness of his writing then lies at intersections, through repetition and revision, within a literary ’contact zone’ between Old and New Worlds.

16While a conscious aesthetic rapprochement with the mainstream surfaces in Mengestu’s writing, in search of inclusion and reconciliation, Chris Abani’s urban novel The Virgin of Flames (2007) retraces subversive displacements toward hybridized otherness that transforms the margin into ’a space of radical openness’ (hooks 1990: 145).

  • 12 There has been a recent controversy surrounding Abani’s biography. Ikhide R. Ikheloa wrote an artic (...)
  • 13 His earlier prose includes two novels, Masters of the Board (1985) and Graceland (2004), and two no (...)

17In the mid-eighties, the Nigerian novelist and poet (b. 1966) was a political prisoner in his country before he escaped to live in exile in England.12 He later moved to the United States and now lives in Los Angeles. Born to an Igbo father and a white English mother, Abani was raised Catholic and went to a seminary to become a priest but was expelled for his unconventional ideas about religion and faith. His first works of fiction depict the devastating effects of postcolonial Nigerian society on women and youths with a focus on gender, culture and traditions, politics and civil wars.13 With The Virgin of Flames, Abani, who defines himself as ’bi-racial, tri-cultural, and trans-national’ (’Coming to America’, 2011: 121), invests the cultural and literary terrain of America from a diasporic perspective. His novel portrays Black, a confused artist in East Los Angeles, who is the son of a Nigerian father missing in Vietnam and of a fervent Catholic Salvadorian mother. Haunted by his past and the ghosts of his dead parents, having visions of the Angel Gabriel, and feeling displaced in Los Angeles, he shares his troubled thoughts with his friends Iggy, the daughter of Jewish immigrants who is a psychic and a tattoo artist, and Bombay who was a child soldier in Rwanda and now owns an illegal slaughterhouse. Black is obsessed with Sweet Girl, a transsexual Mexican stripper, and wants to become a woman. Devout Hispanics mistake him for the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe as he repeatedly puts on a wedding dress, a blonde wig and makeup. Besides, the city authorities sandblast his offensive giant mural of a Muslim woman who expresses multiple genders and who represents Fatima as a subversive version of the Virgin Mary in the post-9/11 era.

18The Virgin of Flames is a dense, complex novel about a journey into self-discovery and an irreverent social satire on race, gender, sexuality and religion. It centers on the in-between position of the diasporic subject and on the formation of ambiguous identities arising from the meeting of different cultural and ethnic origins. Black sees himself as ’a shape-shifter’ (VF, 37) who constantly transforms himself, endorsing several incongruous, intermediate identities. As a biracial cross-dresser, and like Sweet Girl, he occupies a liminal ’Third Space’ (Bhabha 1994: 37) between black and white, woman and man, being neither and yet both, contesting binary racial and gender categories: ’He wasn’t one thing or the other’ (VF, 106). Black stands at intersections and re-invents himself through transgression, claiming his rightful place within a plural society. His sudden metamorphosis, his passage to redemption suggests that there is no stable normality, only variations and fluctuations in a world of many possibilities.

  • 14 As suggested by Cheryl Stobie, the novel can be read as a Künstlerroman (174).

19The tensions and contradictions between worlds that coexist and mingle are exposed through Black’s art, his subjects and painting techniques: ’Black, as a painter, lived in a world of composition-shade, angle of light, perspective-one in which things blurred into one another even as they stood out in sharp relief’ (VF, 24). His painting consists in the superposition of layers, from the inside out: ’from the skeleton, if it were a person, layering the musculature, flesh and skin and clothes on’ (VF, 88). For landscapes, ’he began with the prehistoric, built up through the Gabrieleño and Chumash, through the rancheros and missions, the former slaves and on until he got to the layer he was working on’ (VF, 88). His murals are palimpsestic reconfigurations of multiple identities and hidden histories or lost legacies. His art project is both a rewriting and erasure of self.14 He appropriates city walls to reclaim invisible traces of successive states of being that do not merge but add up to form a complex whole. His work contains a totality of historical moments and of permanent distinct elements that do not show but interact: ’ [H] e could apply the paint in layers that never bled or dried out into each other. Like LA he thought, a segregated city that still managed to work as a single canvas of color and voices’ (VF, 88).

20Abani’s baroque novel of excess on becoming and the process of change in ’a city constantly digesting its past and recycling itself into something new’ (VF, 153) recalls Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) or Everett’s Erasure (2001) that both tackle self-revelation and concealment, and the dual, shifting identities of members of the African diaspora in America. Abani’s work is also reminiscent of Baldwin’s novels about religion, race and homosexuality.

21Most interestingly, one of Black’s murals is entitled ’American Gothic: The Remix’ and not ’The Matrix’ (VF, 90). The mural is composed of poetry mixed with racist and sexist jokes that Black has collected in public bathrooms across the United States; it is a juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly, of the public and the private. The novel includes the list of all the verses and jokes that Black has copied onto a wall in Iggy’s store-a tribute to famous male poets: Wallace Stevens, Yusef Komunyakaa, Langston Hughes, Valentin Iremonger, Galway Kinnell and Pablo Neruda (VF, 95).

22A remix, associated with hip-hop music, is an alternative version that revises and pays homage to an original version, thus entering into a dialogue. Like Black’s paintings, Abani’s novel is multilayered. It integrates and revisits master narratives through de-formations and critical re-formations, through disruptive recreations and textual hybridization. His representation of Black in his wedding dress that has accidentally caught fire is one significant example: ’Black looked like a deranged and psychotic Miss Havisham’, ’A woman on fire’ (VF, 287; 290). The gown actually belongs to his eccentric friend Iggy whose fiancé left her at the altar. Abani’s parodic re-writing of Dickens’s Great Expectations-a sign of his colonial education-is illustrative of the way he reshapes the literary landscape with ambivalent tales that generate playful displacements of meaning.

23The third fiction writer under consideration, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, occupies the space of imagination differently, opting for a more realistic rendition of the plight of African newcomers, with a critical focus on the female experience of displacement. A native of Nigeria, Adichie (b. 1977) moved to the U.S. at nineteen to attend university. She now lives in Maryland and divides her time between the two countries. Adichie started her literary career in America with the publication of two novels set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus (2003), a coming-of-age story, and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) that takes place during the Biafran War. With her eclectic collection, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), she traverses time and space, inventing slice-of-life stories of Nigerians and the Nigerian diaspora. In her compelling American stories, Adichie portrays immigrant women living in-between two cultures, and narrates their impressions of the world. While Abani’s American novel deals with masculinity and the male gaze on womanhood, she addresses family and gender issues and explores sexuality from a feminist perspective. Her deracinated protagonists are privileged middle-class African women who are trapped in unhappy marriages, fighting boredom and isolation, and feeling cheated by deceptive men, whom they followed to ’make it’ in America. The author creates a range of confused female characters, displaced subaltern Others who face culture shock and make necessary, if not inevitable, adjustments that threaten their cultural integrity. When one reads Adichie’s stories, fictional works by other immigrant writers come to mind such as Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999). G.S. Sharat Chandra’s Sari of the Gods (1998) also invites comparison with The Thing Around your Neck. Adichie’s characters learn to compromise, or to assess the possibilities and the limitations of transculturation.

24In the story ’Imitation’, Nkem has been living in a white suburb of Philadelphia with her sons for far too long while her rich husband runs his business in Lagos and spends time with his mistress. Though she misses home, Nkem realizes she cannot return to Nigeria since ’America has grown on her, snaked its roots under her skin’ (TT, 37). In ’The Arrangers of Marriage’, a newly wed joins ’a [Nigerian] doctor in America’ (TT, 169) who dispossesses her of her Nigerian identity. He demands that she take an English name, cook American food and speak American English only. Her new husband takes an assimilationist stance and believes that he will achieve material success only by adhering to the dominant cultural model.

25Through her short stories, the author sheds light on the lures of America as well as on reciprocal misunderstandings and stereotypes. In the story ’Imitation’, Nkem’s husband is a prosperous art-dealer who sells African artifacts to Westerners, mostly decorative replicas passing for authentic African ceremonial masks. Adichie uses those commodified objects, devoid of their original sacredness and cultural significance, as powerful metaphors for illusion and deception. Besides, in ’The Arrangers of Marriage’, the (so-called) doctor’s need to pretend and conform, his ’mimicry’ as ’an ironic compromise’ (Bhabha 1994: 86) is a form of masking and self-delusion. In the title story, ’The Thing Around your Neck’, written in the second person ’you’, the narrator looks back at her immigrant life and proves to be wary of white people’s attitude toward Africans, ’a mixture of ignorance and arrogance’ (TT, 116): ’white people who liked Africa too much and those who liked Africa too little were the same-condescending’ (TT, 120). Adichie also portrays African-Americans who romanticize Africa as an inspirational ’motherland’ (’On Monday Last Week’, 88) or re-name themselves with African names while Africans change theirs to English ones (’The Arrangers’, 180), thus swapping or re-building identities and somehow revealing a gap between the two black communities that look in opposite directions, each across the Atlantic, in search of making their dreams come true.

26Taken together, the three selected works of fiction, among others, are the polyphonic expression of encounters, tensions and fusions that generate a reordering of a globalizing world in movement, a making and remaking of diasporic identities. The authors re-imagine the American city as a heterogeneous space of alterity and alteration. Through their portrayals of characters in transition, they articulate new transcultural subjectivities that challenge rigid assumptions about black America as a homogeneous cultural community. This emerging body of literature calls into question the singularity of African American literature and calls for a reassessment of the dominant black canon within national borders. Do African immigrant writers assimilate, expand, revise or contest the canon? To what extent and in what ways do they shift the parameters of both African and African American fictions? Besides, the study of African writing in America also reveals textual filiations with Western classics that are reworked; it demonstrates convergences with other minority or transnational literatures. These multiple intricate connections invalidate traditional dichotomies and need to be examined through a transversal approach that does not flatten differences but that highlights variations.

27The presence of immigrant writers in America, such as Mengestu, Abani or Adichie, is a determining factor in the evolution, the dissemination and the diversification of postcolonial African literature. They also contribute to the pluralism and multiculturality of America. Standing at the intersection of different worlds, bridging continents and yet highlighting cultural gaps and fractures, they redraw the map of the literary Black Atlantic and offer new artistic visions of America and of its composite African diaspora as an assemblage of ’imagined communities’ (Anderson 1983) in mutation.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Abani, Chris. Masters of the Board. Enugu: Delta, 1985.

Abani, Chris. Graceland. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004.

Abani, Chris. Becoming Abigail. New York: Akashic Books, 2006.

Abani, Chris. Song for Night. New York: Akashic Books, 2007.

Abani, Chris. The Virgin of Flames. 2007. London: Vintage, 2008.

Abani, Chris. ’Coming to America-A remix’, in Experiences of Freedom in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures, Annalisa Oboe and Shaul Bassi, eds. London: Routledge, 2011; 117-121.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. 2003. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. London: Forth Estate, 2006.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. London: Fourth Estate, 2009.

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. 1307-1321. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

’An Interview with Dinaw Mengestu’. 2007. Book Browse. May 29, 2011.www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm?author_number=1430.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1983.

Bayer, Ronald H, ed. Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. 4 vols. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2011.

Bellow, Saul. Herzog. New York: The Viking Press, 1964.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Chandra, G. S. Sharat. Sari of the Gods. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1998.

Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak! 1995. New York: Vintage, 1996.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1860-1861. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor M. The Brothers Karamazov. 1880. New York: Bantam, 1984.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1943. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Emetulu, Kennedy. ’Chris Abani: Lie$ of the Truth-Seller’. Sahara Reporters (Dec. 15, 2011). Accessed January 25, 2012, http://saharareporters.com/article/chris-abani-lie-truth-seller.

Everett, Percival. Erasure. New York: Hyperion, 2001.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Hall, Stuart. ’New Ethnicities’, in Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds. London: Routledge, 1996; 441-449.

hooks, bell. ’Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness’, in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End, 1990; 145-153.

Ikheloa, Ikhide R. ’The Trials of Chris Abani and the Power of Empty Words’. Sahara Reporters (Nov. 26, 2011). http://saharareporters.com/article/trials-chris-abani-and-power-empty-words-ikhide-r-ikheloa. Accessed January 25, 2012.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. 1922. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.

Mengestu, Dinaw. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. 2007. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Mengestu, Dinaw. How to Read the Air. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2010.

Naipaul, V. S. A Bend in the River. 1979. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Olopade, Dayo. ’Go West, Young Man: Conspicuous Consumption in Dinaw Menguestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and V. S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River’. Transition 100 (2008): 134-151.

Stobie, Cheryl. ’Indecent Theology, Trans-theology, and the Transgendered Madonna in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames’. Research in African Literatures 42 (Summer 2011): 170-183.

Terrazas, Aaron. ’African Immigrants in the United States’ (Feb. 2009). Migration Information Source. Migration Policy Institute. www.migrationinformation.org/usfocus/display.cfm? ID=719. Accessed May 10, 2011.

’The Q & A: Dinaw Mengestu, Novelist’. The Economist online (Apr. 26, 2011). www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2011/04/qa_2. Accessed May 29, 2011.

Notes

1 My presentation focuses on a new research project that aims to examine the fictional works of first- and second-generation African immigrant writers who have recently emerged as new black voices in multiethnic American literature. The object of this preliminary study is to lay the foundations for further reflections on these new transatlantic passages, as they call for fresh thinking about the current developments in black diasporic writing and the reshaping of world literature at the outset of the twenty-first century.

2 According to Aaron Terrazas, ’more than 75 % of the African foreign born in the United States have arrived since 1990’ (60). See also Ronald H. Bayer’s recent comprehensive encyclopedia Multicultural America on the ’newest Americans’ (’Preface’: x).

3 These statistical facts contradict stereotypical images of Blacks in the U.S., and more specifically African Blacks who are more highly educated than any other ethnic group in the country, including Whites (see Terrazas 60-61).

4 In Against Race, Paul Gilroy also underlines the tenuous relationship between Africa and the black Diaspora in Europe: ’Several generations of blacks have been born in Europe whose identification with the African continent is even more attenuated and remote, particularly since the anti-colonial wars are over ’ (130).

5 Hereafter BT. The novel was published in the U.K. as Children of the Revolution (Jonathan Cape, 2007). His second novel, How to Read the Air (2010), focuses on two generations of an immigrant family in the U.S.

6 The character is ironically named Franklin Henry Adams: ’The name was so decidedly American, so quintessentially colonial in its rhythm and grandeur’ (BT, 225).

7 The novel’s title is taken from the final lines of Canto XXXIV in ’Inferno’
(l. 136-139).

8 See Olopade’s comparative study of Mengestu’s and Naipaul’s novels and their ’critiques of capitalism [that] hinge on its broken promises’ (150).

9 In Edwidge Danticat’s ’Caroline’s Wedding’ (Krik? Krak!), the narrator, a second-generation Haitian American, also remembers her deceased father ’s bedtime stories, his jokes, riddles, and proverbs that have become ’our sole inheritance’ (1996: 180). Danticat and Mengestu both point at the continuity between vernacular oral tradition, (re) telling in the homeland and (re) writing in the host land.

10 Sepha’s father was killed by the soldiers who had found political flyers that his son had brought home.

11 The eldest Karamazov brother, Dmitri has to flee to America. Dostoevsky himself also endured exile: he was deported under the Tsarist regime to a Siberian penal colony for four years, and then had a life of wandering in Europe.

12 There has been a recent controversy surrounding Abani’s biography. Ikhide R. Ikheloa wrote an article on the Internet to expose Abani’s stories about his prison years as ’a tissue of lies’ invented for self-promotion in the West (’The Trials of Chris Abani’). Kennedy Emetulu has also written an insightful column regarding this heated debate about Abani’s ’fabricated’ past used ’to sell himself and his books’ (2011).

13 His earlier prose includes two novels, Masters of the Board (1985) and Graceland (2004), and two novellas, Becoming Abigail (2006) and Song for Night (2007).

14 As suggested by Cheryl Stobie, the novel can be read as a Künstlerroman (174).

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2014

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