This essay argues for an archipelagic rethinking of Jean Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which has long had an uneasy fit into the category of Caribbean literature. It does so by drawing from archipelagic studies and its distinction between islands as discrete, closed-off landmasses and archipelagoes as interconnected, terraqueous topographies. Through close readings, the essay demonstrates how the Caribbean characters in the novel envision localness as an overlap between earthly materialities and contested epistemologies—an attitude the essay defines as “archipelagic provincialism.” The essay ultimately foregrounds archipelagic thinking as a way to recast the often pejorative idea of provincialism as well as offer a methodology for troubling the very idea of canonicity within Caribbean literature.
Kathleen DeGuzman is an assistant professor of English at San Francisco State University. Her research examines anglophone Caribbean literature, with particular interests in the novel, archipelagic studies, and the Caribbean’s links to the literary cultures of imperial Britain and the Asian Americas. Her work has been published in Anthurium, Studies in the Novel, and Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas.
Drawing from the work of Jamaica’s Gay Freedom Movement (1977–84), this essay uses the term gaydren to consider the basis for activism around same-sex desire in Jamaica in the 1970s and 1980s. Gaydren is a combination of gay, a North Atlantic reference to subjects of same-sex desire, and bredren, a word initially constructed in Rastafarian lexicon as a masculinist expression of collective solidarity. Examining the construction of gaydren highlights the cultural work of Jamaican activists as they transform North Atlantic political discourses to align with the particular contingencies of sexual politics in Jamaica. As a form of political practice, gaydren challenges normative configurations of bredren and gay that emerge from political contexts that oppose white imperial domination to consider more nuanced approaches to both Jamaican and North Atlantic cultural influences.
Matthew Chin is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Service at Ford-ham University. He received his PhD in anthropology and social work from the University of Michigan. He is currently conducting a historical ethnography on the transnational politics of same-sex desire in late-twentieth-century Jamaica.
This essay explores the archival presence of West Indian women in the archives of the Isthmian Canal Commission, the biggest repository of original documents regarding the construction of the Panama Canal. Using a 1909 photograph of a nude black West Indian woman found in a file labeled “Freak Letters,” it considers the difficulties of recovering historical subjects structured by imperial frameworks of productivity and perversity, tracing instead the counternarratives of mobility, affect, and self-determination that might have shaped this black woman’s life. Using this approach, the essay uncovers the archival logic behind “Freak Letters” and recreates the woman’s milieu, highlighting her mobility and diasporic connections. It argues that this woman’s embodied intervention simultaneously confirms and challenges the narratives of US empire that sexualized and limited her. Ultimately, the essay seeks to build an empathetic, archipelagic counterdiscourse as the basis for our explorations of subjects historically silenced or denigrated.
Joan Flores-Villalobos earned her PhD from New York University and is now an assistant professor of history at The Ohio State University. Her book manuscript, “The Silver Women: Intimacy and Migration in the Panama Canal,” explores the labor migration of West Indian women during the Panama Canal construction and the diasporic linkages they created during this period. Her work has been supported by the Ford Foundation and the American Historical Association, among others.
This essay argues for the recuperation of the writings of Léonard Sainville, a founding member of Negritude, and the incorporation of his work into the movement’s canon. Sainville was a historian and novelist whose work mitigates Negritude’s undertheorization of the concept of history and critiques European historiographical methods. Whereas writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor present Negritude, paradoxically, as both establishing continuity between the modernist present and the African past and marking a historical break from their poetic predecessors, Sainville argues that Pan-Africanism cannot form a sufficient basis for Negritude without sustained analysis of the cultural and historical evolution of both continental African and diasporic communities. Sainville’s historiographic intervention blurs the distinction between anti- and postcolonial thought, suggesting that the latter’s critiques of history do not follow necessarily from the failure of postcolonial history to follow the trajectory laid out for it by narratives of anticolonial overcoming.
Robert Decker is a doctoral candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Princeton University. His work examines representation and narratological functions of space and history in twentieth-century French-language fiction of the Caribbean. His current research project focuses on the novels of Édouard Glissant, Vincent Placoly, and Edwidge Danticat, among others. His research interests include postcolonial theory and literature, narratology, nineteenth-century history and fiction, and ecocriticism.
A grandmother’s lost leg. A mother’s scarred sacrum. A daughter transformed into stone. In these five poems, history dwells in the body, the past deep in the bone. Confronting themes of poverty, intimate partner violence, and childhood sexual trauma, the poems speak to the varying ways the poet and women in her family have insisted on survival. These poems bear shifts in landscape and language, namely, from St. Lucia to the United States, from Antillean Creole to American English. Part of a manuscript in progress, the poems seek to probe inherited and lived-through pain so as to move the spirit ever more deeply toward healing, wholeness, and promise.
Sassy Ross is a Saint Lucian American poet living in New York City and a graduate of New York University’s MFA program. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Caribbean Review of Books, sx salon, Caribbean Beat, and Poetry International, among other journals, and in the anthology Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean (2015).
This series of poems operates somewhere between the Bronx, Half Way Tree (Kingston), and memory. Indian indentureship in Jamaica is epistemologically eclipsed; queer death is unmemorialized; an opening of sugar packets evokes the violence of empire. These poems reckon with loss—whether through grammar, digitization, or death. Yet there remains an abiding desire to explode the beauty of (extra)ordinary moments and scenes. Diasporic and hyperlocal, these poems entangle language(s), archives, and memory to map constellations of identities formed and complicated by colonization.
Suzanne C. Persard, born and raised in the Bronx, New York, is a queer scholar, essayist, and poet with Indo-Caribbean roots from Kingston, Jamaica. Her poem “Elegy: 1838,” a series of haikus on Indian indentureship, was featured as part of a profile in 2014 by the Smithson-ian. Currently she is a doctoral student in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Emory University.
Poking fun at the traditional American style of hard-boiled crime fiction, this satirical piece follows two misogynistic bounty hunters through the Trinidadian rainforest as they track down the people responsible for humiliating a ruthless mogul of the poultry industry. But the bounty hunters get more than they bargained for when they finally come across the culprits—they discover that now the chickens abused by the poultry mogul are fighting back. Rich with feminist metaphor, this surreal short story emphasizes how even the most seemingly innocuous chicks can overcome the domination and control of old-school chauvinistic thinking.
Caroline Mackenzie is a Trinidadian writer whose short fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in various publications worldwide. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and her debut novel will be published in spring 2020. She currently lives in Trinidad with her husband and son, where she continues to work as a freelance translator alongside her fiction writing.
As the Me Too movement gathers momentum, the conversation about the historical exploitation of women and sexual power dynamics has spread to Caribbean literature. This story uses the Poui blossom that flowers in the dry season in Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean, as a metaphor for loss, fragility, renewal, and resilience, to demonstrate how it is impossible to separate these dynamics from the way vulnerable women, still embedded in age-old dynamics, turn to powerful men for protection and healing, ironically from the hurt from other men, leading to further abuse. In this particular instance, Poui before Rainexplores the nikah, the Islamic marriage that allows a man living under Islamic law to marry up to three women in a simple ceremony using two witnesses. Equally, he is allowed to divorce by simply repeating Talaak (I divorce you) three times. The nikah is a largely hidden phenomenon in Trinidad (a multicultural democracy where people of all faiths live), but it is far more prevalent than previously believed. Poui before Rain is the story of a woman who is “saved” by a doctor from despair and ill-health after the death of her child and crumbling of her marriage to a gay man who prefers to remain in the closet. The doctor, who does a nikah with her, is on the verge of discarding her when she seeks justice, and in so doing, she finds redemption as well as healing from unexpected spaces.
Ira Mathur is an Indian-born multimedia journalist living in Trinidad and Tobago, where she works as a columnist for the Trinidad Guardian. She is the recipient of nine regional awards for excellence in journalism and was shortlisted for the Hollick Arvon Prize in 2013 and 2014. In 2018 she was shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize: Short Story and the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. An excerpt from her novel in progress is anthologized in Thicker Than Water(2018). She is currently on the longlist of the 2019 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize.
Mafalda Nicolas Mondestin (whose work also appears on the cover of this issue) is a Haitian visual artist born and raised in the United States, Haiti, and Canada, now living and working in Haiti. She studied graphic design at Valencia Community College in Florida. In 2012, she moved back to Haiti, where she shifted her focus to the fine arts by pursuing her practice full time. She has worked with the nonprofit organization AfricAmérica and teaches at the Centre d’Art. Her multimedia art practice encompasses painting, drawing, printmaking, and resin.
This essay examines important contributions made by Dixa Ramírez’s book Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present (2018) to Dominican, Caribbean, and African diaspora literary and cultural studies. It argues for amplifying the study of imperial and nationalist forms of misrecognition, which Ramírez calls “ghosting.” It also argues that a focus on past and present exercises of power as ghosting may permit a greater understanding of stealthy—if often ambivalent—forms of resistance to empire and nationalism.
Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. Her research on Caribbean literature and history focuses on textual travel and publishing infrastructure in the conformation of Pan-Caribbean discourse and cross-lingual Caribbean solidarities. Her first book (in progress) argues for the centrality of literary magazines to the literature and history of the Caribbean. She also translates regularly between English and Spanish.
Through a discussion of Dixa Ramírez’s Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present (2018), this essay highlights and expands on the ways Dominican and Dominican American women have negotiated, resisted, and refused their historical obliteration in Western imaginaries. Three questions guide the commentary: How have Afro-Dominican women been ghosted from national building projects in both the Dominican Republic and the United States? How have Afro-Dominican women writers and performers refused traditional understandings of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and nationality? How do the works of these women remind us that silences, omissions, and exclusions from dominant narratives are irresolute forms of violence executed and perpetuated by Western powers and constantly replicated by the Dominican intellectual and economic elite?
In Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present (2018), Dixa Ramírez astutely and compellingly displays the opacity of the Dominican Republic’s history in the context of the Americas. She complicates trite representations of the Dominican Republic as a space that is racially unconscious and reminds us of the overlooked history of free black experience in the eastern side of the island, pressing the reader to face the ghosted racialized realities that these facts highlight. This review considers the epistemological racial contestations formulated in Colonial Phantoms and probes the work’s own silences. Effectively casting doubts on caricaturist representations of Dominican racial negotiations, Colonial Phantoms circumvents structural dimensions of blackness. A cultural framing of racial representation, thus, walks the line of an essentializing biological racial miscegenation frame and collapses the distance between racial positions of nonwhiteness and blackness. This critical review centers the socially constructed experience of black subjects and what Frantz Fanon refers to as the “fact of blackness.” It asks what the ghosts whisper about the racialized structures that distinctly shape the experience of black (not nonwhite) subjects.
Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores is an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean studies and sociology at Rutgers University. Her research investigates how the built environment mediates race and class inequality. She is the author of the award-winning Locked In, Locked Out: Gated Communities in a Puerto Rican City. Her current projects examine the racial aesthetics and architecture of the real estate market, the global circuits of planning ideas, the landscapes produced by Caribbean engineers, Afro-Latina/o/x experience, and mobile segregation.
This response essay argues that the hyperfocus on what defines appropriate behavior among Afro-descended populations issues from structural white supremacy. One of the messages in the author’s Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present(2018) is that efforts against antiblackness (and a concomitant anti-Haitianness) in the Dominican Republic cannot be accompanied by the tired chastisement that Dominicans do not perform their African descent in ways appealing to the US gaze. In other words, the faster we can accept that subjects of the African diaspora have been damaged by white supremacy and colonialism differently, the faster we can figure out how to sprout out of the rotting episteme created by Man. Plants can and do grow from rot.
Dixa Ramírez D’Oleo is an assistant professor of transnational African American literatures in the American Studies and English Departments at Brown University. She is the author of Colonial Phantoms: Belonging and Refusal in the Dominican Americas, from the 19th Century to the Present (2018). Her second book project is tentatively titled “Mountain Indigeneity, Horror, and the Photographic Negative.”