Something Old, Something New

Posted in Arts, Audio, Autobiography, Biography, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-10-06 15:20Z by Steven

Something Old, Something New

BBC Radio 4

Johny Pitts, Host

Peter Meanwell, Producer

Recorded & mixed! Finished @BBCRadio4 (Engineer Steve Hellier with Johny Pitts) Source: Peter Meanwell

From Sheffield to South Carolina, Johny Pitts explores alternative Black British identity.

What happens when your Dad’s an African-American soul star [Richie Pitts] and your Mum’s a music-loving girl from working class Sheffield? Are your roots on the terraces at a Sheffield United match, or in the stylings of a Spike Lee film? For writer and photographer Johny Pitts, whose parents met in the heyday of Northern Soul, on the dance floor of the legendary King Mojo club, how he navigates his black roots has always been an issue. Not being directly connected to the Caribbean or West African diaspora culture, all he was told at school was that his ancestors were slaves, so for BBC Radio 4, he heads off to the USA, to trace his father’s musical migration, and tell an alternative story of Black British identity.

From Pitsmore in Sheffield, to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, and all the way down to South Carolina, where his grandmother picked cotton, Johny Pitts heads off on a journey of self-discovery. On the way he meets author Caryl Phillips, Kadija, a half sister he never knew, and historian Bernard Powers. He visits the Concorde Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, and the Bush River Missionary Baptist Church, in Newberry, South Carolina. He tracks down a whole host of long-lost cousins, and talks to Pulitzer winning writer Isabel Wilkerson. On the way he shines a light on the shadows of his ancestry, and finds stories and culture that deliver him to a new understanding of his own mixed race identity and history.

Listen to the story here.

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Challenging a Pan-African Identity: The Autobiographical Writings of Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, and Caryl Phillips

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-01-14 01:49Z by Steven

Challenging a Pan-African Identity: The Autobiographical Writings of Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, and Caryl Phillips

Journal of American Studies
Volume 45, Issue 3 (August 2011)
pages 483-502
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875810002410

Gregory D. Smithers, Visiting Associate Professor of History
Virginia Commonwealth University

In her 1986 book All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou reflected on the meaning of identity among the people of the African diaspora. A rich and highly reflective memoir, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes recounted the author’s experiences, relationships, and quest for a sense of individual and collective belonging throughout the African diaspora. At the core of Angelou’s quest for individual and collective identity lay Africa, a continent whose geography and history loomed large in her very personal story, and in her efforts to create a sense of “kinship” among people of African descent throughout the world. Starting with Maya Angelou’s All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, this essay considers the significance of “Africa” as a geographical site, political space, and constantly reimagined history in the formation of black identity in the travel writings of black diaspora authors since the 1980s. I compare Angelou’s work with that of the Hawaiian-born President of the United States Barack Obama, whose Dreams from My Father (1995) offered personal self-reflections and critiques of the African diaspora from a Pacific world perspective. In Obama’s rendering of African diasporic identity, Africa has become “an idea more than an actual place.” Half a decade later, and half a world away, the Caribbean-born Afro-Britain Caryl Phillips published The Atlantic Sound (2000), an account of African diasporic identity that moved between understanding, compassion, and a harsh belief that Africa cannot take on the role of a psychologist’s couch, that “Africa cannot cure.” These three memoirs offer insight into the complex and highly contested nature of identity throughout the African diaspora, and present very personalized reflections on the geography, politics, and history of Africa as a source of identity and diasporic belonging. Taken together, these three personal narratives represent a challenge to the utility of a transnational black identity that Paul Gilroy suggested in his landmark book The Black Atlantic.

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Race, Creole, and National Identities in Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Phillips’s “Cambridge”

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2010-07-12 22:34Z by Steven

Race, Creole, and National Identities in Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Phillips’s “Cambridge”

Small Axe
Number 21 (Volume 10, Number 3)
October 2006
pages 87-104
E-ISSN: 1534-6714, Print ISSN: 0799-0537
DOI: 10.1353/smx.2006.0035

Vivian Nun Halloran, Assoiate Professor of Comparative Literature
Indiana University, Bloomington

As postmodern historical novels dramatizing slavery and its legacy in the anglophone Caribbean islands, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge (1993) problematize Englishness as a national and cultural identity that may or may not be dependent upon race and also reject the Creole as an identity subordinate in status to that of European. By questioning the prevailing nineteenth century assumption of an inherent relationship linking the observable geographical boundaries of a state and the essential character of its national culture, Cambridge destabilizes Englishness as a homogeneous racial signifier for whiteness in its depiction of London as a bustling metropolis with a small but visible population of Black Britons, while Wide Sargasso Sea portrays Creole Jamaican society, black and white, at a moment of crisis, on the eve of the arrival of the first wave of indentured servants from India. Both novels suggest that social demarcations between English and Creole cultural identities are artificial because they ultimately depend on chance — on the geographical accident of a given person’s or character’s place of birth…

Read or purchase the article here.

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