Honoring Black History Month

It is not without a certain sense of optimism and encouragement that I am writing to report to you, dear reader, that the great Martiniquais thinker/psychiatrist/revolutionary Frantz Fanon is Albertine’s regular bestselling author in the social sciences–and has been so for as long as I can remember. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading the penetrating analyses of colonialism in Peau noire, masques blancs or the rousing calls to revolution in Les damnés de la terre, I cannot recommend them enough and envy you for having the pleasure of being exposed to them for the first time. And for those of you who have already read him, you know what I’m talking about!

In honor of Black History Month, and in light of Fanon’s regular success at Albertine, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to bring up some classic but lesser-known thinkers that formed his intellectual universe–particularly, the loose band of authors from the Caribbean and West Africa that formed a movement called Négritude. A framework of criticism, poetry, and literary theory, Négritude emerged in the 1930s with the goal of raising and promoting Black Consciousness throughout the world. It drew inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance; and in particular from the work of the Jamaican-born poet and novelist Claude McKay. McKay’s 1929 novel Banjo, which is as influential as it is overlooked, caused a firestorm in the international community of black readers as it brilliantly deconstructed racism and colonialism while celebrating black identity. (I will point out that the fact that it has not received a full re-issue since 1970 is honestly a scandal.)

Among Banjo’s readers were three black students from three different French colonies who first met as high school students in Paris: Aimé Césaire (Martinique), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), and Léon Damas (French Guiana). Synthesizing Marxist politics, surrealist literature, and a radically anti-colonialist black empowerment aesthetic, these three intellectuals launched Négritude in 1934 in a self-published magazine called L’Etudiant noir. Landmark works from the movement include Senghor’s poetry anthology called Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française and of course Aimé Césaire’s groundbreaking Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.

Some years later, Aimé Césaire found himself back in Martinique as a teacher at a high school where one of his star students would turn out to be none other than Frantz Fanon. Which brings us back to where we started! I hope that this cursory glance at these authors will encourage you to seek out their work as their influence can be felt everywhere in the celebrations of black identity that we see today.

Image: The First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, featuring the likes of Richard Wright, Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon.

Reading List

Peau noire, masques blancs by Frantz Fanon, editions Points/Seuil

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Les damnés de la terre by Frantz Fanon

Les damnés de la terre by Frantz Fanon, editions La Decouverte

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Banjo by Claude Mckay

Banjo by Claude Mckay, Editions De L’olivier

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Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue francaise by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Jean-Paul Sartre, editions Puf

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Cahier d’un retour au pays natal by Aimé Césaire, Presence Africaine

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Originally from Indiana, Adam Hocker has spent his life travelling and working with books. After having taught English in China, he started working at Farrar, Straus and Giroux as their Sales and Marketing Associate. He then lived in Paris for four years, working as a translator and editor for institutions such as the Sorbonne and Éditions du Seuil. A seasoned bookseller, as well as a great lover of literature, philosophy, and music, Adam is delighted to be joining Albertine as their new bookseller and English language buyer.
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