The term Afro Latina/os references people in Latin America and in the Latino United States who claim African ancestry. Although the use of the prefix Afrocan be traced back to the work of intellectuals in Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, usages were connected with anti-racist and African Diaspora struggles, organizing, and advocacy in the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the appellation Afro Latina/o has become mobilized in US Latina/o communities as a critique of the processes through which racial diversity and black populations in these communities have been rendered invisible. Because it conjures various meanings and foci, several authors engaged in the study of afrolatinidades suggest that hemispheric, transnational, and comparative approaches are necessary to appreciate the nuances of use, categorization, and experience as Afro Latina/os navigate complex histories and politics of race, ethnicity, and belonging in the United States and the Americas. The author argues that the term appellation does not resolve the complexities of racial subordination, racism, and self-making among Latin Americans and US Latina/os. He further suggests that sites of unintelligibility, confusion, and perplexity are valuable in thinking of “Afro-Latina/o” as a term that points to a cluster of urgent intellectual and political problems stemming from the irreducibility of individual experience to any term or concept. The increase in claims of Afro-Latina/o as a marker of identity must be calibrated by a consideration of how institutional sites and think tanks collaborate in the making and sedimentation of existing and emerging grids of legibility. At the same time, claiming Afro-Latina/o needs to be understood as a project related to yet distinct from one’s racial identification and relationship with blackness, and the experience of US Latina/os and other ethnic/racial minorities suggests that the work continues to be not only to understand how individuals and groups categorize themselves and others, but also to better grasp what it is that terms such as Afro-Latino/a do.
Carlos Ulises Decena
Literary texts have long been understood as generative of other texts and of artistic responses that stretch across time and culture. Adaptation studies seeks to explore the cultural contexts for these afterlives and the contributions they make to the literary canon. Writers such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens were being adapted almost as soon as their work emerged on stage or in print and there can be no doubt that this accretive aspect to their writing ensures their literary survival. Adaptation is, then, both a response to, a reinforcer of, and a potential shaper of canon and has had particular impact as a process through the multimedia and global affordances of the 20th century onwards, from novels to theatre, from poetry to music, and from film to digital content. The aesthetic pleasure of recognizing an “original” referenced in a secondary version can be considered central to the cultural power of literature and the arts. Appropriation as a concept though moves far beyond intertextuality and introduces ideas of active critical commentary, of creative re-interpretation and of “writing back” to the original. Often defined in terms of a hostile takeover or possession, both the theory and practice of appropriation have been informed by the activist scholarship of postcolonialism, poststructuralism, feminism, and queer theory. Artistic responses can be understood as products of specific cultural politics and moments and as informed responses to perceived injustices and asymmetries of power. The empowering aspects of re-visionary writing, that has seen, for example, fairytales reclaimed for female protagonists, or voices returned to silenced or marginalized individuals and communities, through reconceived plots and the provision of alternative points of view, provide a predominantly positive history. There are, however, aspects of borrowing and appropriation that are more problematic, raising ethical questions about who has the right to speak for or on behalf of others or indeed to access, and potentially rewrite, cultural heritage. There has been debate in the arena of intercultural performance about the “right” of Western theatre directors to embed aspects of Asian culture into their work and in a number of highly controversial examples, the “right” of White artists to access the cultural references of First Nation or Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities has been contested, leading in extreme cases to the agreed destruction of artworks. The concept of “cultural appropriation” poses important questions about the availability of artforms across cultural boundaries and about issues of access and inclusion but in turn demands approaches that perform cultural sensitivity and respect the question of provenance as well as intergenerational and cross-cultural justice.
Futures for Literary Studies
The future of literary studies will be shaped by new and emerging trends in scholarly, critical, and theoretical work, by changes in the material conditions that enable that work, and, perhaps most importantly, by how the institutions within which it functions respond to recent changes in higher education that increasingly threaten the viability of almost all humanities disciplines. The material conditions that shape work in literary studies have changed dramatically in recent decades. The impact of digital technology has been nothing short of transformative, and the changes it has introduced are bound to continue to reshape the field. At the same time, the expansion of the canon, the transnationalizing of literary studies, the revitalization of narratological, formalist, and aesthetic criticism, the emergence of new interdisciplinary fields including the study of sexuality and gender, ecocriticism, affect theory, and disability studies, promise to continue to exert influence in the coming decades. The future from these perspectives looks promising. At the same time, however, the institutional sustainability of literary studies has come under threat as the liberal arts model of higher education has increasingly given way to a stress in higher education on vocational training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines, which has worked to undercut the value and the attraction of literary studies. How the field responds to these changes in the coming decade will be crucial to determining its future viability.
Christopher Buck and Derik Smith
Robert Hayden was made poet laureate of Senegal in 1966 and ten years later became America’s first black poet laureate. He was acclaimed as “People’s Poet” early in his career, but he was largely ignored by the American literary establishment until late in life. In his poetics of history and his nuanced representations of black life, Hayden’s art showed that the African American experience was quintessentially American, and that blackness was an essential aspect of relentlessly heterogeneous America. As he figured it in his late-in-life poem, “[American Journal],” national identity was best metaphorized in “bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans / hard hat yarmulka mini skirt.” Hayden’s archetypal efforts to demonstrate the kaleidoscopic quality of both black and American identity produced an art that transcended propagandistic categories of race and nation, and pathed the way for a large cadre of late 20th and early 21st century poets who, like Hayden, understand themselves to be simultaneously black and American, but ultimately human.
The Early Black Atlantic Conversion Narrative
Prior to the last decade of the 20th century, literary critics generally, like Thomas Jefferson before them, dismissed the role religion played in the writings by and about the first generation of English-speaking authors of African descent. Christ’s injunction to his followers to bear witness to their faith, however, gave that first generation the sanction, means, motive, and opportunity to speak truth to power during the 18th-century period of the transatlantic Protestant Great Awakening and Evangelical Revival. The early Black evangelical authors, such as Phillis Wheatley in poetry and Olaudah Equiano in prose, used narratives of their religious conversions as both testaments to their own faith as well as models of spiritual belief and secular behavior for their primarily white readers to follow. The writings of Wheatley and Equiano also exemplify how early Black authors who adopted Christianity could appropriate its tenets to challenge the institution of slavery.