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 The Practice of Diaspora is nothing short of a masterpiece. . . . black life, thought, struggles

 and . . .words . . . translated across the black Francophone and Anglophone worlds, reveal

how Paris became a locus for the development of black modernism and internationalism



The Practice of Diaspora

Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism

By Brent Hayes Edwards


A pathbreaking work of scholarship that will reshape our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance, The Practice of Diaspora revisits black transnational culture in the 1920s and 1930s, paying particular attention to links between intellectuals in New York and their Francophone counterparts in Paris. Brent Edwards suggests that diaspora is less a historical condition than a set of practices: the claims, correspondences, and collaborations through which black intellectuals pursue a variety of international alliances.

Edwards elucidates the workings of diaspora by tracking the wealth of black transnational print culture between the world wars, exploring the connections and exchanges among New York-based publications (such as Opportunity, The Negro World, and The Crisis) and newspapers in Paris (such as Les Continents, La Voix des Nègres, and L'Etudiant noir). 


In reading a remarkably diverse archive--the works of writers and editors from Langston Hughes, René Maran, and Claude McKay to Paulette Nardal, Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Padmore, and Tiemoko Garan Kouyaté--The Practice of Diaspora takes account of the highly divergent ways of imagining race beyond the barriers of nation and language. In doing so, it reveals the importance of translation, arguing that the politics of diaspora are legible above all in efforts at negotiating difference among populations of African descent throughout the world.--Publisher


There are any number of quite impressive issues and approaches in Brent Edwards's The Practice of Diaspora. Seemingly familiar, apparently over-played, categories are archivally reworked or else finely spun out into webs of instructive relationship. A good and timely work, as much for its particulars on (post-) coloniality and writing "race" as for Edwards's légitime defense of diaspora. The conceptual and socio-historical fluency with which this work re-positions Paris and its noirs is especially welcome. Recall of this sort has been somewhat overdue. —Lemuel A. Johnson, Professor of English at the University of Michigan

This is a magnificent study. The Practice of Diaspora's contribution to scholarship is made in at least four areas: African-American studies (generally speaking), African-American literary studies, modernism, and literary theory. The combination of its theoretical adeptness, its rigor, and its depth of scholarship is quite remarkable. I don't recall having seen this mixture of theory, textual interpretation, cultural history, intellectual history, and diaspora scholarship before. 

Edwards's study is quite ambitious but I think he more than delivers on those ambitions. I think its importance does not rest simply in the depth of its scholarship or the mixed mode of its argumentation, but in how much it will encourage others to return to these areas with a rigor that does not depend upon a demonstration of "discursive mastery" in particular areas but upon cross-area attentiveness.—Wahneema Lubiano, Professor of Literature at Duke University

The Practice of Diaspora is nothing short of a masterpiece. By looking at the way black life, thought, struggles and quite literally, words, are translated across the black Francophone and Anglophone worlds, Edwards reveals how Paris became a locus for the development of black modernism and internationalism during the crucial interwar years. Rather than search for some essential unity, he explores difference, creative tensions, misapprehensions and misunderstandings between key black intellectuals. The result is a spectacular interdisciplinary study that will profoundly change the way we think about the African diaspora.—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002)

A remarkably precise feat of scholarship which illuminates the exchanges between the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude movement, achieves a transnational, mapping between Harlem and Paris, the Caribbean and Africa, and suggests a new vision of diasporic modernism.—Michel Fabre, author of From Harlem to Paris (1993).

The Practice of Diaspora is so deeply rooted in the specifics of history, biography, and astute textual analysis that it amounts to nothing less than a new understanding of that old term "African Diaspora." Because of Brent Edwards' imaginative research, subtle questioning, and acute powers of synthesis, this book succeeds from start to finish. It is beautifully written, consistently entertaining, and compelling as both an argument and a scholarly narrative.—Arnold Rampersad, author of The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. DuBois (1976); The Life of Langston Hughes (1986, 1988); and (co-authored with Arthur Ashe) Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997).

In detailed, meticulously researched, fresh and surprising accounts of various crucial points of contact and of difference among black intellectuals from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa in Europe, Brent Edwards offers a new understanding of their linguistic, cultural, and political boundary crossings, as these intellectuals developed contending models of black internationalism in the interwar period, often in response to each other. 

Any reader interested in the intellectual and political issues represented and discussed by René Maran, Alain Locke, Jessie Fauset, the Nardal sisters, Claude McKay, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Padmore, or Tiemoko Garan Kouyaté, anyone concerned about the semantics of racial terms, the debates in francophone and anglophone journals, about the significance of Nancy Cunard's Negro: An Anthology, or about diasporic writing will find this book indispensable. The Practice of Diaspora makes a major contribution to the much-needed internationalization of American Studies.—Werner Sollors, author of Neither Black Nor White Yet Both

An exciting, innovative and extremely important study of black internationalism between the two World Wars of the Twentieth Century. Brent Edwards is a fine literary critic and historian as alert to the tensions and anxieties of difference and distance as to the yearnings for affiliation and solidarity. The Practice of Diaspora is a stunning excavation of the transnational sites and circuits of modern black culture.—Hazel Carby, author of Race Men

Brent Edwards's wide-ranging Practice of Diaspora really does just that. From the vantage point of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, he looks across to Harlem and surveys black internationalist thought from the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States. This utterly fascinating book traces the circuits of intellectuals engaged in a truly diasporic struggle for the Race. Edwards's care with issues of gender and translation are particularly welcome.Nell Irvin Painter, author of Southern History Across the Color Line and Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol.

Black consciousness in Paris and Harlem between the wars

Paris has long fascinated Brent Hayes Edwards, associate professor of English. He lived there for more than a year before beginning graduate study at Columbia University, and much of his academic research has focused on the black intellectuals and artists from around the world who were drawn to the City of Lights in the 1920s and 1930s. His new book, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Harvard University Press, 2003), is a comparative study of the relationships between writers, artists and intellectuals associated with the Harlem Renaissance in the United States and their African and Caribbean counterparts in Paris.

The Paris arts and intellectual scene after World War I was particularly rich, Edwards says, because of the influx of large numbers of French-speaking blacks from such countries as Martinique, Senegal and Madagascar. Many of these blacks, who were colonial subjects of France, had been conscripted to serve in the French workforce or military during the war and then remained in Paris afterward. African-Americans also spent time in the city, creating a dialogue on ways of writing about black art and life. 

Woven into The Practice of Diaspora is a discussion of the rise of black internationalism after the war. “It was an incredibly exciting moment in world politics,” Edwards says. “With the Russian Revolution and the forming of the League of Nations, Africans and African-Americans began to think that people could come together at a level beyond the nation-state in order to protect human rights and civil liberties on a global scale.” 

The book makes particularly good use of the full range of black periodicals produced during this era in both English and French to explore cultural perspectives across national and linguistic borders, and to discuss the role of translation in mediating ideas among various black communities.Edwards’ next project will focus on the relationship between jazz and poetry. “I’m interested in how poets imitate or emulate jazz and how a number of jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, wrote poetry.” He is currently teaching an undergraduate seminar on jazz and poetry, and a graduate seminar on black internationalism.—Amy Vames Rutgers

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The Practice of Diaspora

Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism

By Brent Hayes Edwards


List of Illustrations     ix


1 Variations on a Preface


Translating the Word Nègre
The Frame of Blackness
Race and the Modern Anthology
Border Work
A Blues Note
2 On Reciprocity: René Maran and Alain Locke


Véritable Roman Nègre
A "Black Magic" of the Preface
Paris, Heart of the Negro Race
Encounter on the Rhine
The Practice of Diaspora
3 Feminism and L'Internationalisme Noir: Paulette Nardal


Gender in Black Paris
Feminism and La Dépêche Africaine
Salons and Cercles d'Amis
Black Magic
Begin the Beguine
4 Vagabond Internationalism: Claude McKay's Banjo


Légitime Défense: Translating Banjo
Vagabond Internationalism
Diaspora and the "Passable Word"
The Boys in the Band
Black Radicalism and the Politics of Form
5 Inventing the Black International: George Padmore and Tiemoko Garan Kouyate


The Negro Worker
Black Collaboration, Black Deviation
Black Marxism in Translation
Toward a Francophone Internationalism
International African
Coda: The Last Anthology


Notes    321
Acknowledgments    387
Index    391

Publication Date 10 July 2003 / Harvard University Press / Cloth $55 / Paper $24.95 / 397 pages

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

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Ancient African Nations

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