May 17, 2011

“Look for Me All Around You”: Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance

Lost and found
By Carl A. Wade

Seven years after the appearance of Winds Can Wake Up the Dead: An Eric Walrond Reader, his highly respected anthology featuring the work of the neglected Caribbean writer, Louis J. Parascandola brings together the writings and speeches of a selection of those West Indian immigrants who exerted a powerful if not inordinate influence on that efflorescence of art and ideology familiarly known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Against the background of the complex social tensions of the times, Parascandola’s most recent text offers a comprehensive and timely reminder of the multifaceted contribution of this marginalised community to one of the most significant cultural and ideological events in New York City’s history. It celebrates the Caribbean immigrants as “key contributors to the burgeoning developments of this seminal era, cogently adding their unique voice to a variety of issues, including race and image building, the development of a Black aesthetic, progressive politics, and the struggle to define the status of blacks in America.”

The immigrants selected by Parascandola, a professor of English at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University, represent every significant sphere of Harlem activity, as well as a cross section of West Indian communities, including Suriname. Many of these are well known to scholars and researchers, but unfamiliar to the lay community — especially in the West Indies — while the others have languished in obscurity for three quarters of a century. Apart from Walrond, born in British Guiana of Barbadian parents, Parascandola’s subjects include the well-known voices of Jamaicans Claude McKay, the eminent poet and novelist, and Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and the most prominent of all Renaissance personalities; the Barbadian communist and labour activist Richard B. Moore; the Puerto Rican bibliophile Arthur A. Schomburg, after whom the famous Harlem research library is named; J.A. Rogers, the Jamaican historian and author; George Padmore, the noted Pan-Africanist born in Trinidad; Hubert Harrison, “the black Socrates,” socialist activist and newspaper editor, and Frank A. Crosswaith, trade union leader, both from St. Croix; and Cyril Valentine Briggs, the self-styled “angry blond Negro” communist newspaperman from Nevis. Otto Huiswoud, first black member of the American Communist Party, agitator, and editor from Dutch Guiana, and W.A. Domingo, the socialist newspaperman born in Jamaica, the son of a Spanish father and Jamaican mother, complete the list of male immigrants whose work is examined in the collection. Parascandola achieves something of a balance by discussing the contributions of three women, namely Amy Ashwood Garvey, co-founder of the UNIA; Amy Jacques Garvey, author and campaigner for the rights of women and blacks; and Eulalie Spence, the prize-winning playwright and drama teacher from Nevis.

Read full CRB article here.

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