Sunday, January 8, 2017, 12:00 noon–1:15 pm
112A, Pennsylvania Convention Center
This special session of the 2017 Modern Language Association Annual Convention looks at the Caribbean presence, both demographic and discursive, in 1920s Harlem. The presentations examine how the Caribbean influenced the New Negro Renaissance, in terms of Caribbean people participating as well as how Caribbean perspectives (and US perspectives on the Caribbean) appear in literary work of the period.
In keeping with the conference theme, “Boundary Conditions,” foregrounding the Caribbean’s spectral presence highlights the constructedness of the geopolitical boundaries dividing the U.S. from its neighbors; suggests the permeability of the boundaries between the rational and the supernatural; calls into question the practice of drawing boundaries within the black diaspora; and promotes a dialogue across the boundaries imposed by the fields of American studies, Caribbean studies, Latino/a studies, and African diaspora studies.
Important scholarship has shown the substantial contributions of Caribbean people to 1920s Harlem, including Winston James’s and Joyce Moore Turner’s work on Caribbean participation in radical movements and Louis Parascandola’s archival recovery of Caribbean writing. Quintessential Harlem Renaissance writers such as Claude McKay were from the Caribbean, and African American writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston travelled to the Caribbean and drew on its culture in their writing.
This panel uses new archival research to explore how these Caribbean contributions might be considered spectral. On the one hand, spectrality suggests incomplete erasure, as figures such as Arturo Schomburg or Nella Larsen are not always considered in terms of their Caribbeanness. At the same time, bringing this Caribbeanness to the forefront helps us see that when the region did appear in literature from this period, it was often in terms of ghost stories, zombies, and the supernatural.