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Scholars in the field have indicated that Blacks in Hispanic Literature is still relevant;

in a 2002 article, published in the Journal of Dagarre Studies, one noted that

the collection "provides a valuable historical review for the medieval and Golden

Age periods," and in 2004, another called it "the seminal study in the field of

Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth.'"



 Books by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (2003  / Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon (1999)

  The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (1995) / Erotique Noire/Black Erotica  (1992) / Homespun Images ( 1989)  / Notable Black Memphians

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Three Decades of Afro Hispanic Literary Studies

By Miriam DeCosta-Willis 


In the 1970s, Howard University was in the vanguard of Black Studies, with scholars and writers such as John Oliver Killens, Léon Damas, Stephen Henderson, and Haki Madhubuti offering courses, developing programs, and creating works rooted in the Black Arts Movement and The Black Aesthetic. When I joined Howard's faculty in 1970 as a professor of Spanish, my association with these artists and thinkersand, through them, with George Lamming, Wilfred Cartey, and Keorapetse Kgositsilehad a great impact on my creative and intellectual development. In the Department of Romance Languages, I learned of earlier faculty members, such as Valaurez Spratlin, who had taught courses on the Negro in Spanish literature, and Mercer Cook, who had introduced students to Black literature in French.

I was particularly excited by the research of department colleagues such as Martha Cobb and Stanley Cyruslater joined by Annette Dunzo and Ian Smartwho taught courses on Afro-Hispanic poetry and fiction, in which students read the works of Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorian Nelson Estupiñán Bassauthors whom I had never heard of in my graduate study of European languages and literatures. Aware of my mis-education, I began reading, presenting papers, publishing articles, organizing seminars, and teaching courses on these gifted writers. When I became chair of the department in 1974, my colleagues and I developed a Ph.D. program with a concentration in Afro-Hispanic literature, the first program of its kind in the country. We also brought African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Ecuadorian Adalberto Ortiz and Colombian Manuel Zapata Olivella, to Howard to lecture and read from their works. By then, I had also met professors from other universities, like Ann Young, Lemuel Johnson, and Sylvia Wynter, many of whom were examining negritud in Hispanic literature, Négritude in Francophone letters, and Blackness in Anglophone literary texts.

In the midst of this creative fervor, I decided to publish a collection of essays on Afro-Hispanic literature by noted scholars because, in the mid-seventies, the academic discipline of Afro-Hispanic Studies was not recognized and the Black presence in Hispanic letters was virtually invisible. Until then, there were only two book-length studies of Blacks in Spanish and Latin American letters: one by Lemuel A. Johnson and the other by Richard L. Jackson, both of which dealt primarily with the cult of whiteness in the works of mainstream European and Spanish American writers. It was significant, therefore, that Blacks in Hispanic Literature was published in 1977following, as it did, the advent of Black Studies programs in the United Statesbecause this foundational text laid the groundwork for important critical studies that followed.

Blacks in Hispanic Literature  was also significant because it was the first collection of articles on Afro-Hispanic literaturea collection that included the essays of established scholars such as Johnson and novelist/dramatist/essayist Sylvia Wynter, as well as those of previously-unpublished academics like Martha Cobb and Antonio Olliz Boyd, who would later produce important texts in the field. Furthermore, it was a collaborative work that brought together the essays of researchers and creative writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America; and such collaboration became a hallmark of later journals, conferences, and edited collections. With the inclusion of essays by Carter G. Woodson, Valaurez B. Spratlin, and John F. Matthewspioneers of African and African American history and literatureit provided an historical context for understanding the emergence and later development of Afro-Hispanic literary studies. The work of these early scholars demonstrated clearly that Diasporan Spanish American literature was rooted in the oral literatures of Africa and the literary texts of Spain. 

Evidence of the collection's significance was its acquisition by university libraries, inclusion on course syllabi, and citation in scholarly articles, books, and  conference papers. The book was reviewed in prestigious journals, such as Research in African Literature and the Journal of Spanish Studies, in which it was cited as one of "two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature" that appeared in the late 1970s. Scholars in the field have indicated that Blacks in Hispanic Literature is still relevant; in a 2002 article, published in the Journal of Dagarre Studies, one noted that the collection "provides a valuable historical review for the medieval and Golden Age periods," and in 2004, another called it "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth.'" More recently, it was cited in the introduction to a 2008 collection of essays by Jerome Branche and listed in a bibliography compiled by Runoko Rashidi; and two of the essays were referenced in a 2004 article by Warren Jones, III, as well as in a 2008 book edited by Richard M. Juang.

In the three decades since the publication of Blacks in Hispanic Literature, the field of Afro-Hispanic literary studies has been enriched by the research of noted critics; proliferation of artistic works by Black Hispanophone writers; publication of three important journals; application of new critical methodologies for interpreting the literature; and studies that focus on single countries and individual writers. Two of the seminal figures in the development of the field have been Richard L. Jackson, one of the first scholars to identify writers, trace themes, develop bibliographies, and establish a canon; and Marvin A. Lewis, whose work as a professor, mentor, administrator, conference organizer, editor of two journals, and author of five books has left an indelible stamp on Afro-Hispanism. The scholarship of Lewis and Jackson is paralleled by the enormous productivity of Black, Spanish-speaking writers in Africa and the Americas, including Cuban Marta Rojas, Ecuadorian Argentina Chiriboga, and Donato Ndongo Bidyogo of Equatorial Guinea.   

The Afro-Hispanic Review has been a major instrument in the evolution of Afro-Hispanic scholarship. Founded in 1982 by Ian I. Smart, Henry J. Richards, and the late Stanley A. Cyrus, who served as editor, it was first located in Washington, DC. Initially, it was founded as a part of the Afro-Hispanic Institutean academic press designed to publish books and a journal. The Review fostered scholarship on well known writers and also focused attention on less familiar writers such as Colombians Arnoldo Palacios and Carlos Arturo Truque. In 1986, when it became an official publication of the University of Missouri-Columbia under the editorship of Marvin A. Lewis and Edward Mullen, the Afro-Hispanic Review was acknowledged as the primary academic forum for research in the literature and culture of Spanish-speaking people of African ancestry. During his twenty-year editorship of the journal, Lewis brought Afro-Hispanic writers to the United States; organized conferences, NEH seminars, and panels at CLA and MLA conventions; and published "A 20-Year Retrospective" as well as special issues dedicated to Arozarena, Morejón, [Yvonne] Truque [or?] Carlos Truque, and Zapata Olivella. When the Afro-Hispanic Review was transferred to Vanderbilt University in 2005, the new editor, William Luis, wrote that it was "the oldest and most distinguished journal to consider the African Diaspora experience in the Hispanic World."

Two other journals have shaped the development of Afro-Hispanic literature and literary criticism. The first issue of PALARA (Publication of the Afro-Latin/American Research Association) appeared in fall 1997, under the editorship of Marvin A. Lewis and Laurence E. Prescott. Founded as a multi-lingual and multi-disciplinary journal that publishes research on the Diaspora, it was published by the Afro-Romance Institute of the University of Missouri-Columbia and includes articles, reviews, creative works, and papers from its conferences throughout the Americas. In 2005, the journal was relocated to Purdue University, where it is now edited by Antonio Tillis. The other important journal is Diáspora: Journal of the Annual Afro-Hispanic Literature and Culture Conference, which published the papers of conferencesheld in Spain, Latin America, and the United States between 1988 and 2007organized and coordinated by Elba D. Birmingham-Pokorney.       

Such conferences were important in affording opportunities for presenting papers, stimulating further research, establishing relationships between writers and literary critics, introducing recently-published creative writing, exposing scholars to new critical methodologies, and stimulating intellectual exchanges in informal gatherings. In 1985, Karen Becnel Moore organized the Afro-Latin American Conferenceone of the firstat Dillard University, where we met Costa Rican writer Quince Duncan. During the 1990s, Lewis hosted several international research conferences at the University of Missouri-Columbia. At each, there were about twenty-five participants, including Colombian Yvonne América Truque, Uruguayan Cristina Cabral, Dominican Blas Jiménez, and other writers, whose booksunavailable in the USwe bought and ordered for courses. One symposium dealt with the poetry of Nancy Morejón while another, entitled "Spain in Africa and Latin America: The Other Face of Literary Hispanism," focused on Ecuatoguinean literature. Lewis also coordinated a 2001 NEH  Summer Institute for College and University Teachers on "Teaching the African Diaspora: An Afro-Romance Approach" at the University of Missouri. The energy, enthusiasm, camaraderie, and intellectual stimulation that we felt at these conferences were immeasurable. In fact, I conceived the idea for a book on Black Hispanophone women writerspublished in 2003at the 1991 gathering.       

Although most early scholars of Afro-Hispanic literature were shaped, intellectually, by Black aesthetic preceptsand that is apparent in my introduction to Blacks in Hispanic Literaturewe developed, in the course of three decades, various methods, notably text-specific methods, of interpreting literature. While critics of Afro-Hispanic literature became fluent in the methodologies of New Criticismbased on structuralist, post-structuralist, culturalist, deconstructionist, reader-response, and psychoanalytic theoriesmany (and I am one of them) continue to believe that Diasporan literature cannot be divorced from the cultural and historical context out of which it emerges. Consequently, scholars have found that the theories and praxis of culturalism, new historicism, and postcolonialism are particularly relevant to the interpretation of texts by writers of African descent. Since the 1970s, feminist studies, especially those on African, Caribbean, and African American literatures, have widened the perspectives of literary critics such as Janet Jones Hampton, Rosemary Geisdorfer Feal, and the late Caroll Mills Young. Two other phenomena have deepened and broadened approaches to literary interpretation in the field: media studies, especially those in film and the visual arts; and the idea that a cultural productiona poem, house, painting, calypso, socceris a text that can be "read."

Although literary critics have brought new interpretations to texts, Blacks in Hispanic Literature is still relevant because it laid the foundation for the articles, books, courses, conferences, bibliographies, and journals that have been produced in the last three decades. It did so by introducing scholars to an innovative and challenging academic discipline, by defining and shaping the contours of that discipline, and by providing an aesthetic that could be defended or disputed.


Branche, Jerome, ed. Colonialism and Race in Luso-Hispanic Literature. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

Gayle, Addison. The Black Aesthetic. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.    

Jackson, Richard L. The Black Image in Latin American Literature. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976.

Johnson, Lemuel A. The Devil, the Gargoyle and the Buffoon: The Negro as Metaphor in Western Literature. Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971.

Jones, Warren, III. "The Black Presence in Spanish Literature." The Louisiana Weekly (22 November 2004).

Juang, Richard M. and Noelle Marrisette, eds. Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

Rashidi, Runoko. "The African Star Over Europe: A Selected Bibliography of the African Presence in Early Europe." The Global African Community.

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. For example, Antonio Olliz Boyd's examination of Blackness in Latin American literature is an unwitting call-and-response to Ortiz's analysis of negritud. Similarly, Martha Cobb and Sylvia Wynter examine concepts of race and representation in Spanish peninsular literature from the Moorish conquest through the Siglo de Oro. John F. Matheus describes the portrayal of Blacks in early Latin American literature, while Lemuel Johnson and Constance Sparrow de García Barrio focus their analyses on Cuban and Puerto Rican poetry.

This edition of BHL includes a new introduction, which traces the development of Afro-Hispanic creative writing and literary criticism in the past thirty years. The field has been enriched by the publication of three important journals, organization of seminars and conferences, and application of new critical methodologies. This edition also includes a bibliographic essay that describes the creative production of Afro-Hispanic writers, particularly women, Latinos, and Ecuatoguineans who have emerged in the last three decades. The updated bibliography describes the publications of scholars, such as Richard L. Jackson and Marvin A. Lewis, who have broadened the field to include analyses of genres, themes, countries, and individual authors.

This collection introduced many academics to a new discipline, defined and shaped the contours of that discipline, and provided an aesthetic that led to the development of other theories. Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth,'" Blacks in Hispanic Literature, thus, helped to lay the groundwork for the evolution of Afro-Hispanic Studies.

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Miriam DeCosta Introduction

Sylvia Wynter The Eye of the Other: Images of the Black in Spanish Literature

Martha Cobb Afro-Arabs, Blackamoors and Blacks: An Inquiry into Race Concepts through Spanish Literature

Howard M. Jason The Negro in Spanish Literature to the End of the Siglo de Oro

Carter G. Woodson Attitudes of the Iberian Peninsula (in Literature)

Valaurez B. Spratlin The Negro in Spanish literature

John F. Matheus African Footprints in Hispanic-American Literature

Antonio Olliz Boyd The Concept of Black Awareness as a Thematic Approach in Latin American Literature

Adalberto Ortiz Negritude in Latin American Culture

Shirley M. Jackson Fact from Fiction: Another Look at Slavery in Three Spanish American Novels

Leslie Wilson La Poesia Negra: Its Background, Themes and Significance

Constance Sparrow de García Barrio The Image of the Black Man in the Poetry of Nicolás Guillén

Miriam DeCosta, Social lyricism and the Caribbean Poet/Rebel

Lemuel Johnson, El Tema Negro: The Nature of Primitivism in the Poetry of Luis Palés Matos

Ann Venture Young The Black Woman in Afro-Caribbean Poetry

Miriam DeCosta Selected Bibliography

Source: HKU

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Miriam DeCosta-Willis, author and college professor, was born 1 November 1934, in Florence, Alabama. She received her B.A. at Wellesley College in 1956; her M.A. Johns Hopkins in 1960; her Ph.D. Johns Hopkins in 1967 in Romance Languages. In 1967 she joined the faculty of Memphis State University as the first African American member, and while there agitated for more black staff members. When King was assassinated in 1968 she was in the march that erupted into violence and the police used mace on her.

DeCosta-Willis became a professor of Spanish and in 1970 chairperson of the Department of Romance Languages at Howard University. At Howard, she was exposed to Afro-Hispanic authors. In 1975 DeCosta-Willis left Howard and in 1979 returned to teaching at LeMoyne-Owen College. She remained there for ten years before taking a position at George Mason University. Leaving in 1991, DeCosta-Willis took a position with the University of Maryland, where she remained until her retirement in 1999.

DeCosta-Willis served for ten years as an associate editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. She is co-founder and a former chairperson of the Memphis Black Writers Workshop, and has served on the Memphis Arts Council advisory committee and a review panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities. DeCosta-Willis has four grown children. She divides her time between Washington, D.C., and Memphis.

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Popular Literary Depictions of Black African Weddings in Early Modern Spain

By Aurelia Casares and Marga Barranco

African American popular and scholarly interest in Central and South America, 1960 to 2005

Images of Blacks and Africa in Spanish Literature

Reflections on Recent Trends

By Andrew M. Sobiesuo

Hispanic-American Writers  (Harold Bloom)  / The African Experience in Spanish America (Leslie B., Jr. Rout)

An English Anthology of Afro-Hispanic Writers of the Twentieth Century (Elba D. Birmingham-Pokorny)

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Theodora Roosevelt Boyd

Former Howard Chair of the Department of Romance Languages

Theodora Boyd was born to James and Jeannette Boyd on June 6, 1906 in Charleston. Her parents found out early on that their daughter was an extremely gifted child. She was educated in the public schools of Newton, Mass., and by 1923, Theodora had been afforded an opportunity few African-Americans would be able to partake in, and she seized it with fervor and great determination. . . . . After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1927, Theodora began a teaching career that would span 50 years starting at Clark College in Atlanta, Ga. Spending two years there, she continued on at Radcliffe, earning a Master's in 1930. She headed back out into the teaching world, this time, to Texas Teacher's College in Tyler, Texas.  . . . While the Great Depression had crippled the nation, after one year in Texas, Theodora continued to find work, and jumped at an opportunity to teach physical education and French at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C.

Also during this time, she sought her Doctorate at Radcliffe and became head of the French department at St. Augustine's. From 1931 to 1935, she spent her summers attending Harvard University summer school, but it was not until 1943 that she received her Ph.D, Phi Beta Kappa. She also went on to earn a Certificate de La Langue Française, de Civilization Française from the Sorbonne (The University of Paris).  . . . Following her stint at St. Augustine's, she taught at a number of places, including, Alabama State Teacher's College, Delaware State College, and St. Paul's University before her final stop, Howard University.

It was there in 1961 Theodora taught French and Humanities and by 1969, she became the first female to serve as Chair of the Department of Romance Languages at Howard. . . . .

She took on the challenge of being the first woman to head up Howard's Department of Romance Languages, succeeding internationally renowned scholars like Valaurez  Spratlin and Dr. Mercer Cook. Spratlin is noted for being the first African-American to earn a doctorate in Spanish as well as serving as Chair at Howard from 1927-1961

Cook, who immediately preceded Theodora, was appointed ambassador to the Republic of Niger by President Kennedy in 1961. He held that post for three years. In 1970, Theodora sent a letter to DeCosta-Willis, whose father Dr. Frank DeCosta, Sr, she had known quite well. DeCosta-Willis was teaching at Memphis State University in Memphis, Tenn., at the time and was the first African-American to teach there in 1967. She was there when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968.

Theodora had contacted DeCosta-Willis to see if she would be interested in joining her at Howard. She accepted the offer and fondly remembered her time there. . . . When 68-year-old Theodora stepped down from her role as Chair in 1974, she left the door wide open for the 40-year-old DeCosta-Willis to follow her lead. Theodora stayed on board as a part-time professor until 1976.

Theodora never married or had any children, and by 1977, her health had deteriorated. She moved back to her family's home in South Carolina and was cared for by relatives until she died on December 26.

Source: Ivy50

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An Introduction to the Literature of Equatorial Guinea

Between Colonialism and Dictatorship
By Marvin A. Lewis

. . . the first book-length critical study of this literature, a multigenre analysis encompassing fifty years of poetry, drama, essays, and prose fiction. Both resident and exiled authors offer insights into the impact of colonialism and dictatorship under Spanish rule and consider the fruits of “independence” under the regimes of Francisco Macías Nguema and Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Examining these works from the perspective of postcolonial theory, Marvin A. Lewis shows how writings from Equatorial Guinea depict the clash of traditional and European cultures and reflect a dictatorship that produced poverty, misery, and oppression. He assesses with particular care the impact of the Macías reafricanization process and its manifestations in literature.

In showing how the views of the nation correspond and diverge in works of writers such as Maria Nsue Angue, Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, and Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, Lewis brings to light artists who articulate their concerns in Spanish but are African in their souls. In analyzing the works of both renowned and emerging writers, he marks the themes that contribute to the formation of national identity: Hispanic heritage, the myth of Bantu unity, “bonding in adversity” during the Nguema regime, and the Equatoguinean diaspora.

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Manuel Zapata Olivella and the “Darkening” of Latin American Literature

By Antonio D. Tillis

Manuel Zapata Olivella and the “Darkening” of Latin American Literature is an examination of the fictional work of one of Latin America’s most prolific, yet overlooked, writers. Born in Colombia to parents of mixed ancestry, Zapata Olivella used his novels to explore the plight of the downtrodden in his nation and by extension the experience of blacks in other parts of the Americas. Author Antonio D. Tillis offers a critical examination of Zapata Olivella’s major works of fiction from the 1940s to the 1990s. . . Tillis focuses on the development of the “black aesthetic” in Zapata Olivella’s stories, in which the circumstances of the people of African heritage are centered in the narrative discourse. Tillis also traces Zapata Olivella’s novelistic effort to incorporate the Africa-descended subject into the literature of Latin America. A critical look at the placement of Afro–Latin American protagonists reveals the sociopolitical and historical challenges of citizenship and community. In addition, this study explores tenets of postcolonial and postmodern thought such as place, displacement, marginalization, historiographic metafiction, and chronological disjuncture in relation to Zapata Olivella’s fiction. T

illis concludes that the novelistic trajectory of this Afro-Colombian writer was one that brought into literary history an often overlooked subject: the disenfranchised citizen of African ancestry. By expanding and updating the current scholarship on Zapata Olivella, Tillis leads us to new contexts for and interpretations of this author’s work.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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