"They employ a practiced cultural nationalism that defines a distinct literary movement in contemporary novels, demanding that scholars address the continued relevance of nation in post-black arts writing. This strand of African American fiction uses scenes of organizing, cooking, dancing, mapping, and inscribing to create a distinct nationalist discourse." --Courtney ThorssonAmong other things, Courtney Thorsson's discussion, and really her framing, of cultural nationalism in her book Women's Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women's Novels (2013) caught my attention. Too often, discussions of cultural nationalism focus on a relatively small group of men, and then later the concept is regularly dismissed in academic settings and in certain literary circles.
Yet all around us -- in your local black neighborhood, over there on Black Twitter, the rhetoric and symbols associated with #BlackLivesMatter, on the radio, on that YouTube video, in those movies, with the singing of "Amazing Grace" at that funeral -- we're constantly witnessing aspects of cultural nationalism, black cultural nationalism.
And here Thorsson was linking in to the cultural nationalism of black women novelists. And here I am linking the concept to black women poets. You don't have far to travel in the works of Allison Joseph, Patricia Smith, Evie Shockley, and others to find instances of "organizing, cooking, dancing, mapping" in relation to aspects of African American culture.
And we already know about the worlds of Elizabeth Alexander. She is writing poetry, but she's also producing black histories in verse. We hear from the Venus Hottentot. We get an extended treatment on the Amistad. She transports us to the 19th century to listen in on observations from black girls struggling for an opportunity to receive an education.
In the context of poetry, we might extend our discussion of cultural nationalism to consider aspects of style and delivery. I'm thinking of those sonnet sequences in works by Joseph, Smith, and Nikky Finney, among others. There are all those surrealist moments in poetry by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. A focus on style, indeed, gets us considering what Thorsson referred to as "a practiced cultural nationalism," which is multifaceted for many black women poets.
• A Notebook on work by Courtney Thorsson
• Women's Work and Black Poetry
• Blog entries about black women poets