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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Colleen J. McElroy travel writing kinship coevalness chiasmus 

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Notes

  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studies of McElroy’s travel writing see Glen Winfield, ‘“Black/White Limits”’: Colleen J. McElroy Writes Travel’, unpublished masters dissertation, Nottingham Trent University, 2007; andGoogle Scholar
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    Tim Youngs, ‘A Daughter Come Home? The Travel Writings of Colleen J. McElroy’, New Literatures Review, no. 42 (2004), 57–74.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
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  4. 3.
    Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, ‘Literature and Double Consciousness: Warring Images in Afro-American Thought’, in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Writers in Politics: A Re-Engagement with Issues of Literature and Society (Oxford: James Currey, 1997), 40.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 50.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Langston Hughes, Selected Poems (New York: Vintage, 1974), 266Google Scholar
  7. 5a.
    Countee Cullen, On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (New York: Harper and Row, 1947), 24–28. I cite these lines for the meaning which is commonly - if casually -attributed to them.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    For a useful survey of African American travel writings about Africa, see James Campbell, Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787–2005 (New York: Penguin, 2006); seeGoogle Scholar
  9. 6a.
    John C. Gruesser, 1990. ‘Afro-American Travel Literature and Africanist Discourse’, Black American Literature Forum, 24, no. 1 (1990), 5–10. Selections of relevant primary texts may be found inCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Alasdair Pettinger, ed., Always Elsewhere: Travels of the Black Atlantic (London: Cassell, 1998), andGoogle Scholar
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    Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish, eds, A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (London: Pluto Press, 1986), 102.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 102–103.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    Leslie Alexander Lacy, The Rise and Fall of a Proper Negro: An Autobiography (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 122.Google Scholar
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  16. 11.
    Ibid., 123.Google Scholar
  17. 12.
  18. 13.
    Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes (New York: Vintage, 1991), 35.Google Scholar
  19. 14.
  20. 15.
    Colleen J. McElroy, A Long Way from St Louie: Travel Memoirs (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997), 218.Google Scholar
  21. 16.
    Colleen J. McElroy, Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999), xi, 157.Google Scholar
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    Angelou, All God’s Children, 21.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    Zenga Longmore, Tap-Taps to Trinidad (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), 252.Google Scholar
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    McElroy, A Long Way from St Louie, 70.Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    Ibid., 299.Google Scholar
  26. 21.
    Colleen J. McElroy, ‘Rewriting the Past Perfect: A Memorist’s Approach’, BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, 9, no. 1 (2003), 242.Google Scholar
  27. 22.
    Julian Pitt-Rivers, ‘Kinship III: Pseudo Kinship’, in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills (New York: Macmillan 1968), vol. 8, 408–413.Google Scholar
  28. 23.
    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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    Pitt-Rivers, ‘Kinship III’, 412.Google Scholar
  30. 25.
    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
  31. 26.
    David M. Schneider, American Kinship: A Cultural Account (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), esp. 53–54.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 116.Google Scholar
  33. 28.
    David M. Schneider, ‘Kinship, Nationality and Religion in American Culture: Toward a Definition of Kinship’, in Forms of Symbolic Action: Proceedings of the 1969 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Robert F. Spencer (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969), 116–125.Google Scholar
  34. 29.
    See David M. Schneider, A Critique of the Study of Kinship (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Janet Carsten, ed., Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
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    Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    Angelou, All God’s Children, 98–105.Google Scholar
  38. 32.
    Ibid., 206.Google Scholar
  39. 33.
    McElroy, Over the Lip of the World, 8.Google Scholar
  40. 34.
    Ibid., 163.Google Scholar
  41. 35.
  42. 36.
    Ibid., 9 and 54 respectively.Google Scholar
  43. 37.
    Ibid., 28–30.Google Scholar
  44. 38.
    McElroy, A Long Way from St Louie, 97–98.Google Scholar
  45. 39.
    See Max Nanny, ‘Chiasmus in Literature: Ornament or Function?’, Word and Image, no. 4 (1998), 51–59, for a useful introduction.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 40.
    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
  47. 40a.
    Ira Clark, ‘“Measure for Measure”: Chiasmus, Justice, and Mercy’, Style, 35, no. 4 (2001), 659–678.Google Scholar
  48. 41.
    Quoted in Sam Lebovic, ‘The Creation of the Fulbright Program and the International Transmission of American Culture, 1945–1950’, unpublished paper (2006), available at https://doi.org/www.wage.wisc.edu/uploads/Globalizing%20Political%20History/Lebovic_06%20final.pdf (last accessed 14 November 2007), 19.Google Scholar
  49. 42.
    http://www.wage.wisc.edu/urluploads/Globalizing%20Political%20History/Lebovic_06%20final.pdf Ibid., 25.Google Scholar
  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
  51. 44.
    Colleen J. McElroy, personal communication, 26 January 2008.Google Scholar
  52. 45.
    McElroy, Over the Lip of the World, 144.Google Scholar
  53. 46.
    Ngugĩ, ‘Literature and Double Consciousness’, 38.Google Scholar
  54. 47.
    Ibid., 50.Google Scholar
  55. 48.
    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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