Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Posted in Anthologies, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-29 01:09Z by Steven

Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Peter Lang
September 2021
366 pages
13 fig. b/w.
Paperback ISBN:978-2-8076-1625-7
ePUB ISBN:978-2-8076-1627-1 (DOI: 10.3726/b18256)

Edited by:

Hélène Charlery, Professor of English Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Many recent studies of racial passing have emphasized the continuing, almost haunting power of racial segregation even in the post-segregation period in the US, or in the post-apartheid period in South Africa. This “present-ness” of racial passing, the fact that it has not really become “passé,” is noticeable in the great number of testimonies which have been published in the 2000s and 2010s by descendants of individuals who passed for white in the English-speaking world. The sheer number of publications suggest a continuing interest in the kind of relation to the personal and national past which is at stake in the long-delayed revelation of cases of racial passing.

This interest in family memoirs or in fictional works re-tracing the erasure of some relative’s racial identity is by no means limited to the United States: for instance, Zoë Wicomb in South Africa or Zadie Smith in the UK both use the passing novel to unravel the complex situation of mixed-race subjects in relation to their family past and to a national past marked by a history of racial inequality.

Yet, the vast majority of critical approaches to racial passing have so far remained largely focused on the United States and its specific history of race relations. The objective of this volume is twofold: it aims at shedding light on the way texts or films show the work of individual memory and collective recollection as they grapple with a racially divided past, struggling with its legacy or playing with its stereotypes. Our second objective has been to explore the great variety in the forms taken by racial passing depending on the context, which in turn leads to differences in the ways it is remembered. Focusing on how a previously erased racial identity may resurface in the present has enabled us to extend the scope of our study to other countries than the United States, so that this volume hopes to propose some new, transnational directions in the study of racial passing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – Hélène Charlery and Aurélie Guillain
  • Part I: Memories of Racial Passing – Reconstructing Local and Personal Histories – From Homer Plessy to Paul Broyard
    • To Pass or Not to Pass in New Orleans – Nathalie Dessens
    • Racial Passing at New Orleans Mardi Gras; From Reconstruction to the Mid- Twentieth Century: Flight of Fancy or Masked Resistance? – Aurélie Godet
    • Passing through New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York City: The Dynamics of Racial Assignation in Walter White’s Flight (1926) – Aurélie Guillain
    • African American Women Activists and Racial Passing: Personal Journeys and Subversive Strategies (1880s– 1920s) – Élise Vallier-Mathieu
  • Part II: Memory, Consciousness and the Fantasy of Amnesia in Passing Novels
    • “What Irene Redfield Remembered”: Making It New in Nella Larsen’s Passing – M. Giulia Fabi
    • Between Fiction and Reality: Passing for Non- Jewish in Multicultural American Fiction – Ohad Reznick
    • Experiments in Passing: Racial Passing in George Schuyler’s Black No More and Arthur Miller’s Focus – Ochem G.l.a. Riesthuis
    • Passing to Disappearance: The Voice/ Body Dichotomy and the Problem of Identity in Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing (2004) – Anne-Catherine Bascoul
  • Part III: Memories of Racial Passing within and beyond the United States: Towards a Transnational Approach
    • “The Topsy-Turviness of Being in the Wrong Hemisphere” Transnationalizing the Racial Passing Narrative – Sinéad Moynihan
    • Passing, National Reconciliation and Adolescence in Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and The Wooden Camera (Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, 2003) – Delphine David and Annael Le Poullennec
    • Transnational Gendered Subjectivity in Passing across the Black Atlantic: Nella Larsen’s Passing, Michelle Cliff ’s Free Enterprise and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time – Kerry-Jane Wallart
  • About the Authors/ Editors
  • Index
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A Furious Voice, Forged In The ‘Fire’ Of Prejudice

Posted in Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2018-04-25 21:38Z by Steven

A Furious Voice, Forged In The ‘Fire’ Of Prejudice

Book Review
National Public Radio

Jessa Crispin, Founder and Editor

If I Could Write This in Fire
By Michelle Cliff
Hardcover, 104 pages
University of Minnesota Press
List price: $21.95

While on a tour of the University of Virginia, Jamaican-American novelist and short-story writer Michelle Cliff is informed by a doctoral student that Thomas Jefferson never owned slaves. “‘Villagers,’ as they’re affectionately known,” says the student, “built [this] university, Monticello, every rotunda, column and finial the great man dreamed of. They liked him so much they just pitched in, after their own chores are done.”

It’s one of many unsettling moments in If I Could Write This in Fire, a collection of essays that is Cliff’s first nonfiction book. Everywhere Cliff goes, she sees people treating history as if it were a story they could rewrite at will: women at cocktail parties uttering, “Pinochet was not so bad”; guests at a dinner party disbelieving that the blacks in Birth of a Nation were white actors in blackface.

Cliff, 61, has always been an outsider — a lesbian born on a homophobic Caribbean island, an immigrant in the U.K. (where she studied) and the U.S. (where she settled), a mixed-race intellectual trying to make sense of a black and white world…

Read the entire review here.

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If I Could Write This in Fire

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Justice, United Kingdom, United States on 2018-04-24 14:08Z by Steven

If I Could Write This in Fire

University of Minnesota Press
104 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Cloth/jacket ISBN: 978-0-8166-5474-1

Michelle Cliff (1942-2016)

A deeply personal meditation on history and memory, place and displacement by a major writer

Born in a Jamaica still under British rule, the acclaimed and influential writer Michelle Cliff embraced her many identities, shaped by her experiences with the forces of colonialism and oppression: a light-skinned Creole, a lesbian, an immigrant in both England and the United States. In her celebrated novels and short stories, she has probed the intersection of prejudice and oppression with a rare and striking lyricism.

In her first book-length collection of nonfiction, Cliff displays the same poetic intensity, interweaving reflections on her life in Jamaica, England, and the United States with a powerful and sustained critique of racism, homophobia, and social injustice. If I Could Write This in Fire begins by tracing her transatlantic journey from Jamaica to England, coalescing around a graceful, elliptical account of her childhood friendship with Zoe, who is dark-skinned and from an impoverished, rural background; the divergent life courses that each is forced to take; and the class and color tensions that shape their lives as adults. The personal is interspersed with fragments of Jamaica’s history and the plight of people of color living both under imperial rule and in contemporary Britain. In other essays and poems, Cliff writes about the discovery of her distinctive, diasporic literary voice, recalls her wild colonial girlhood and sexual awakening, and recounts traveling through an American landscape of racism, colonialism, and genocide—a history of violence embodied in seemingly innocuous souvenirs and tourist sites.

A profound meditation on place and displacement, If I Could Write This in Fire explores the complexities of identity as they meet with race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and the legacies of the Middle Passage and European imperialism.

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Writing in Fire: Honoring the Life & Legacy of Michelle Cliff

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2018-04-24 13:49Z by Steven

Writing in Fire: Honoring the Life & Legacy of Michelle Cliff

Yomaira C. Figueroa, Ph.D.

Yomaira C. Figueroa, Assistant Professor of Global Diaspora Studies
Michigan State University

Michelle Cliff (Nov. 2, 1942-June 12, 2016) was an award-winning Jamaican novelist, essayist, critic, poet, scholar, and teacher. An influential author in Caribbean, feminist, and lesbian writings, some of her notable works include: Abeng, No Telephone to Heaven, Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise, Free Enterprise, If I Could Write This In Fire, and The Land of Look Behind. Cliff’s work reflected many parts of her identity, contemporary sociopolitical concerns stemming from colonialism, and a critical investment in the Caribbean and her diasporas. Her works examine the complexities of identity politics, lesbianism, colorism, colonialism/post-colonialism and revolution – both of the personal variety and the political. On June 22, 2017, we gathered at the Caribbean Philosophical Association Annual Meeting in NYC to honor her life and writing. This post includes the work of the roundtable participants. The roundtable, titled “‘Writing in Fire’: Honoring the Life & Legacy of Michelle Cliff” marked the second year that the Chair of Afro-Diasporic Literatures (me) and the Chair of the Initiative on Gender, Race, and Feminisms (Xhercis Mendez) joined together to propose roundtables to honor Caribbean women writers at the CPA (at the 2016 we celebrated the 10th/11th publication anniversary of M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing). This year two Ph.D. students – Keishla Rivera (Rutgers Newark) and Briona Jones (Michigan State) – joined moderator Xhercis Mendez and I to reflect on the rich inheritance Michelle Cliff has left us. Below are excerpts from the reflections which engendered a powerful and generative dialogue across several topics, fields, and interests…

Read the entire article here.

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No Telephone to Heaven

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Novels, United Kingdom, United States on 2016-06-23 23:51Z by Steven

No Telephone to Heaven

March 1996 (Originally published in 1987)
224 Pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780452275690

Michelle Cliff (1946-2016)

A brilliant Jamaican-American writer takes on the themes of colonialism, race, myth, and political awakening through the experiences of a light-skinned woman named Clare Savage. The story is one of discovery as Clare moves through a variety of settings – Jamaica, England, America – and encounters people who affect her search for place and self.

The structure of No Telephone to Heaven combines naturalism and lyricism, and traverses space and time, dream and reality, myth and history, reflecting the fragmentation of the protagonist, who nonetheless seeks wholeness and connection. In this deeply poetic novel there exist several levels: the world Clare encounters, and a world of which she only gradually becomes aware – a world of extreme poverty, the real Jamaica, not the Jamaica of the middle class, not the Jamaica of the tourist. And Jamaica – almost a character in the book – is described in terms of extraordinary beauty, coexisting with deep human tragedy.

The violence that rises out of extreme oppression, the divided loyalties of a colonized person, sexual dividedness, and the dividedness of a person neither white nor black – all of these are truths that Clare must face. Overarching all the themes in this exceptionally fine novel is the need to become whole, and the decisions and the courage demanded to achieve that wholeness.

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Journey into Speech-A Writer between Two Worlds: An Interview with Michelle Cliff

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Caribbean/Latin America, Interviews, Media Archive on 2016-06-23 23:33Z by Steven

Journey into Speech-A Writer between Two Worlds: An Interview with Michelle Cliff

African American Review
Volume 28, Number 2, Black Women’s Culture Issue (Summer, 1994)
pages 273-281
DOI: 10.2307/3041999

Opal Palmer Adisa, Professor of Creative Writing
California College of the Arts

Among the subjects Jamaican born writer Michelle Cliff explores in her writings are ancestry, the impact of colonization on the Caribbean, the relationships among and interconnection of African people in the diaspora, racism, and the often erroneous way in which the history of black people is recorded. In her latest novel, Free Enterprise (1993), Cliff attempt: to rewrite the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant, the African American woman who supplied money with which John Brown bought arms for the raid at Harper’s Ferry. Her other two novels, No Telephone to Heaven (1987) and Abeng (1984), are semi-autobiographical and explore the life of Clare Savage, fair-skinned girl raised between Jamaica and North America, who must reconcile her mixed heritage in a changing society. Other works by Cliff include Bodies of Water (1990), The Land of Look Behind (1985), and Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise (1980).

The following text is based on two separate interviews: one done in person in Albany, California, in December 1989, and the other conducted over the telephone in September 1993.

Adlsa: When did you find your voice, when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

Cliff: I always wanted to write. Actually there was a terrible incident. I don’t know if I should tell you, but I will. When I was at Saint Andrews I was keeping a diary. I had been very influenced by The Diary of Anne Frank, and as a result of seeing the movie and reading her diary, I got a diary of my own. I wasn’t living with my mother and father at this time; I was living with my aunt in Kingston [Jamaica] and going to Saint Andrews. This aunt also had a house in Saint Ann, where we used to stay on the weekends. Anyway, my parents broke into my bedroom in Kingston when we were not at the house. They went into my room, broke open my drawer, took out and broke the lock on my diary, and read it. Then they arrived at the other house. My father and mother had my diary in their hands and sat down and read it out loud in front of me, my aunt, and everybody else. My sister was there. There were very intimate details; there were a lot of things about leaving school and not going to class and playing hookey, but there was also the experience of the first time I menstruated, and I remember just being shattered. My father read it, and my mother was in total collaboration. (Pause.) Anyway I remember just crying and being sad and whatnot. I spoke to my sister about it once, and she remembered, even though she was seven at the time. And she said, “Don’t you remember screaming and saying, ‘Don’t I have any rights?'”…

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Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-20 20:33Z by Steven

Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

The New York Times

William Grimes

Michelle Cliff sometime in the 1980s. In 1975, she met the poet Adrienne Rich, who became her partner and died in 2012.

Michelle Cliff, a Jamaican-American writer whose novels, stories and nonfiction essays drew on her multicultural identity to probe the psychic disruptions and historical distortions wrought by colonialism and racism, died on June 12 at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 69.

The cause was liver failure, according to the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust. Ms. Cliff and Ms. Rich, the poet, were longtime partners.

Ms. Cliff’s entire creative life was a quest to give voice to suppressed histories, starting with her own. Her first essay, “Notes on Speechlessness,” written for a women’s writing group in 1978, can be read as the keynote for her subsequent work, which navigated the complexities of her life situation — she was a light-skinned black lesbian raised partly in Jamaica and partly in New York, and educated in Britain — against the broader background of the Caribbean experience…

…In her first novel, “Abeng” (1984), she introduced Clare Savage, a light-skinned 12-year-old Jamaican girl who befriends the dark-skinned Zoe, whose family squats on Clare’s grandmother’s farm. It is an idyllic relationship that cannot survive the harsh realities of race and class.

“Emotionally, the book is an autobiography,” Ms. Cliff told the reference work Contemporary Authors in 1986. “I was a girl similar to Clare and have spent most of my life and most of my work exploring my identity as a light-skinned Jamaican, the privilege and the damage that comes from that identity.”

Clare returns to Jamaica as an adult in the novel “No Telephone to Heaven” (1987), which, in a series of flashbacks, tells of her life in New York and London and her struggles to come to terms with who she is…

Read the entire obituary here.

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Dismembering the Master Narrative: Michelle Cliff’s Attempt to Rewrite Jamaican History in Abeng

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Passing on 2013-02-11 19:22Z by Steven

Dismembering the Master Narrative: Michelle Cliff’s Attempt to Rewrite Jamaican History in Abeng

St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York
English Senior Seminar Papers
27 pages

Marissa Petta
St. John Fisher College

Abeng by Michelle Cliff is a coming-of-age novel set in colonial Jamaica. The heroine, Clare, struggles with defining herself across the lines of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Intertwined with Clare’s journey to find herself is a large discussion of Jamaica’s history as a colonial territory as well as the permanent effects of English colonization on the island. Cliff recognizes that the typical European history of Jamaica is told through the eyes of superior white male colonizers and it most commonly shows that all things native and/or black are perceived as bad. Cliff challenges the master narrative and tries to rewrite Jamaica’s colonial history with the untold stories of the island’s past. Through discussion of mixed race heritage, female leadership, and resistance, Cliff tries to rewrite Jamaica’s past to embrace the forgotten stories that are full of pride and strength, which gives the colonized subjects a voice in their own history. She uses Clare Savage as a metaphor for the island, her resistance as a representation of Jamaica’s new history. Cliff recognizes that the past cannot be erased, however, she believes that history can be retold to more fully explain the strength, resilience, and power within the Jamaican community. Her ultimate goal is to tell a powerful story of Jamaica’s history, a new history that has been untold and kept secret for many years. Clare’s resistance is the catalyst of change in Cliff’s retelling of Jamaica’s past, and she helps to create a sense of hope that the stories that have been hidden for so long will be unveiled and celebrated by the Jamaican people…

Read the entire article here.

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In Praise of Michelle Cliff’s Creolite

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-07-01 23:01Z by Steven

In Praise of Michelle Cliff’s Creolite

North Carolina State University
62 pages

Quincey Michelle Hyatt

A thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts—English

Focusing on feminism, language, and history, this thesis explores the ways in which the theories of creolization set forth in Michelle Cliff’s novels, Abeng (1984), No Telephone to Heaven (1987), and Free Enterprise (1990), explain existence in an increasingly cross-cultural world.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Michelle Cliff and the Authority of Identity

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States, Women on 2011-12-25 20:06Z by Steven

Michelle Cliff and the Authority of Identity

The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association
Volume 28, Number 1, Identities (Spring, 1995)
pages 56-70

Sally O’Driscoll, Associate Professor of English
Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut

Michelle Cliff has gained critical acclaim as a novelist in the United States and England; her position as an expatriate Jamaican writer is not called into question. Yet when she is read against the background of Caribbean literary criticism, her authorial identity moves into the foreground. In this perspective, Cliff, as author, becomes problematic as soon as we try to define what she “is” as a Caribbean writer: a very light-skinned woman who identifies herself as black, a product of the Jamaican upper class (she came from a family of landowners with slave owners in their past), an expatriate (who has lived in Europe and the United States since 1975), a lesbian, a feminist, and an academic. The reception of her work indicates that Cliff herself-her embodiment as an author-has been an important factor in the evaluation and classification of her writing. As author, Cliff stands at the point of connection-or rupture-between two major non-congruent constructions of identity: third-world postcolonialist and first-world postmodern. Also relevant are debates about “race” as social construction (and its different operations in an American or a Jamaican context), and about gender and sexuality as constituent components of identity.

It is not only Cliff’s authorial embodiment, of course, that raises these questions. Her work has always been overtly concerned with questions of identity, from the 1980 Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise, through essays, short stories, poetry, and criticism, and three novels: the partly autobiographical Abeng (1984); No Telephone to Heaven (1987); and Free Enterprise (1993). In this essay I shall focus on No Telephone to Heaven as a site where familiar notions of identity based in race, class, gender, and sexuality are questoined; it is in critiques of this novel that we can examine how Cliff’s authorial self is implicated in evaluations of her work.

The authority of identity is a central issue for a writer who straddles first world and third world, colonizer and colonized, the postmodern and the postcolonial—the word “postcoloniai” itself being a symbol of disagreement between the two worlds. The tension arises because western post-…

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