Sociologist Elijah Anderson has astutely observed that in spite of the influence of the United States’ civil rights movements, racial segregation remains central to U.S. society. Anderson has noted that while public spaces have officially or nominally become open to all, “the wider society is still replete with overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, universities, workplaces, churches and other associations, courthouses, and cemeteries, a situation that reinforces a normative sensibility in which Black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present” (10).
This concept of white space extends to children’s books and media, publishers, and scholarship. Yet Anderson’s conception of more inclusive “cosmopolitan” and Black spaces is also relevant for theorizing and understanding African and African Diasporic writing for young people. These rich and diverse bodies of literature, film, and other media comprise spaces that center on and portray the power of Black identities, cultures, and histories.
For this special issue of IRCL, the journal of an organization whose membership includes very few Black scholars from Africa and the African Diaspora, we, Karen Chandler and Michelle Martin, African American guest editors and senior scholars who want to foster more BIPOC scholarship in the field, intend this issue as an invitation into more scholarly conversations by and about Africa and the African Diaspora. We invite international contributions that expand upon this notion of Black Space in children’s literature, film, and related media of African societies and the African Diaspora–spaces that afford attention to Black identities, cultures, and histories. In adapting Anderson’s ideas about White and Black Space, we are most interested in moving beyond conventional thinking that equates Black space with dysfunction and lack (e.g. the American ghetto), the “primitive/barbaric or natural/romantic” (e.g. patterns in West African children’s books that Vivian Yenika-Agbaw has analyzed), or other emphases that simplify or distort Black experience.
We aim to bring Anderson’s conception of Black Space into conversation with texts created by authors from Black African societies and the Black Diaspora who are writing for young readers. We are interested in scholarship on children’s and young adult literature that portrays Black Space as generative, creative, secure, joyful, nurturing, and more. Outdoor spaces, porches, kitchens, barbershops, markets, salons, churches, schools, and other communal spaces often form metaphorical “villages” where mutual care takes place, where Black young people find nurture and community, and where they locate the resources to learn to be and express themselves.
Some contemporary Black creators to consider include Ghanaian author Portia Dery; Nigerian author Mary Ononokpono; African American Patricia McKissack (Porch Lies and Other Tales), Joyce Carol Thomas (adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston stories with Chris Myers and other illustrators) and Mildred D. Taylor (Logan family saga); British Malorie Blackman (Noughts & Crosses series); Ivorian-French Marguerite Abouet’s Aya series (Aya of Yop City); Nigerian American Nnedia Okorafor (the Akata Witch and Binti series); Kwama Mbalia (Tristan Strong series), and Toni Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone series); Canadian American Zetta Elliott (Dragons in a Bag series); Haitian American Edwidge Danticat (Untwine, The Last Mapou); and the many crafters (e.g. Reginald Hudlin, Jesse Holland, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ryan Coogler) of the Afrofuturistic world of Black Panther. We are also interested in earlier children’s literature and applicable/relevant theory, such as that by J. O. de Graft Hanson, Chinua Achebe, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Essays on historical or contemporary texts might pursue some of the following:
- Black spaces: places (real or imagined) where Black people are able to thrive, to create, to build, to regenerate
- Black creativity: representations of Black individuals or groups making things, creating art, gardening, cooking, being ingenious, making music, dancing, talking and telling stories, performing comedy
- Conflicts related to class, ethnicity, religion, gender identities, etc. among different communities of the Black Diaspora
- The environment, ecology, land, air, parks and gardens, and sustainability related to how and where Black people live and work
- Food justice in Black communities
- The motif of the underground as spaces of escape or safety for people of the African Diaspora
- Genres and formats as spaces, including spaces that have yet to be inhabited by publishing houses and Black authors in a substantive way. While Black YA authors’ urban street lit and historical nonfiction and historical fiction find routes to publication, what genres are still relatively rare or non-existent for Black authors, and what might that future look like?
- Publishing traditions and constraints vs. Black artistic integrity: national settings can sometimes dictate what genres are most common and what children’s literature looks like; how might more international conversations between writers for children and young adults from different locales within the African Diaspora push the boundaries of what is possible for all?
- The role of literary prizes (e.g. The Golden Baobab Award, Children’s Africana Book Awards, Coretta Scott King Award, etc.), archives, and curation in sustaining the availability of Black books both for enjoyment and for study
Own Voices as a contested space: tensions have long existed between texts written from outside of a lived experience vs. texts written from an Own Voices perspective
- Problematizing conceptualizations of Blackness to examine its diversity and complexity; and exploring books from different parts of Black Diaspora
Texts as sites for cross-cultural collaborations, as when a co-writer who brings the story to light amplifies the voice of the teller or when a Black writer or illustrator collaborates with a non-Black artist
- Translations or adaptations of Black texts for young people
- Intersections between Blackness and Indigeneity within shared spaces, and Black individuals’/groups’ relationship to Native cultures, heritage, tribal lands, sovereignty, citizenship, etc.
- Protests/protesting, histories and revisionist histories informing protests; particular cultural practices that are forms of protest
- Speculative fiction as revisionist history and/or as prophecy
Completed articles will be due 1 April 2022.
Email subject: “IRCL Special Issue Black Spaces.”
The submission should include an abstract of no more than 300 words, a brief bio (100 words) and 3-5 key words.
Please follow the IRCL style guide.