Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 317–328 | Cite as

African Americans on Africa: Colleen J. McElroy and the rhetoric of kinship

  • Alasdair PettingerEmail author


This article primarily considers Over the Lip of the World (1999), a travel book about Madagascar by African American writer Colleen J. McElroy. It examines the way the text engages with the language of kinship, taking physical resemblances between the author and the people she meets, not as signs of common descent (as it often is for other African American writers visiting Africa) but as an artificial pretext for drawing attention to the marked differences between her relationship to Madagascar and her interlocutors’ relationship to the United States.


Colleen J. McElroy travel writing kinship coevalness chiasmus 


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  1. 1.
    For illuminating studies of McElroy’s travel writing see Glen Winfield, ‘“Black/White Limits”’: Colleen J. McElroy Writes Travel’, unpublished masters dissertation, Nottingham Trent University, 2007; andGoogle Scholar
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    Surprisingly, this practice has received rather scant scholarly attention. But see Marc Shell, Children of the Earth: Literature, Politics and Nationhood (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) for a stimulating discussion of universal siblinghood.Google Scholar
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    Juliet Mitchell observes that the more a society invests in (idealised) sibling rhetoric, the less it appears to take notice of actual siblinghood, as if the only problematic power relations were vertical ones between generations, rather than horizontal ones between peers (Juliet Mitchell, Siblings: Sex and Violence (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), ix–xvi).Google Scholar
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    See David M. Schneider, A Critique of the Study of Kinship (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Angelou, All God’s Children, 98–105.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 28–30.Google Scholar
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    McElroy, A Long Way from St Louie, 97–98.Google Scholar
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    This aspect of chiasmus is discussed in Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Figures in Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 122–155, and explored further byGoogle Scholar
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    Quoted in Sam Lebovic, ‘The Creation of the Fulbright Program and the International Transmission of American Culture, 1945–1950’, unpublished paper (2006), available at (last accessed 14 November 2007), 19.Google Scholar
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  50. 43.
    Sarah Schulman, letter to Colleen J. McElroy, 4 April 1988, The Colleen J McElroy Archive, Raymond Williams Research Centre, Nottingham Trent University.Google Scholar
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    Colleen J. McElroy, personal communication, 26 January 2008.Google Scholar
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    McElroy, Over the Lip of the World, 144.Google Scholar
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    Ngugĩ, ‘Literature and Double Consciousness’, 38.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 50.Google Scholar
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    McElroy, Over the Lip of the World, xii.Google Scholar
  56. 49.
  57. 50.
    This correspondence is in the Colleen J. McElroy Archive. In fact Tiana Tsizaza went on to study at the University of Washington in Seattle (McElroy’s own institution), and while a doctoral student, she travelled back to Madagascar to participate in an international conference on education and literature as an emissary of the University (Colleen J. McElroy, personal communication, 25 January 2008).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent scholarGlasgowUK

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