Afro-Atlantic Flight

Speculative Returns and the Black Fantastic

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 26 illustrations Published: March 2017

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Cultural Studies

In Afro-Atlantic Flight Michelle D. Commander traces how post-civil rights Black American artists, intellectuals, and travelers envision literal and figurative flight back to Africa as a means by which to heal the dispossession caused by the slave trade. Through ethnographic, historical, literary, and filmic analyses, Commander shows the ways that cultural producers such as Octavia Butler, Thomas Allen Harris, and Saidiya Hartman engage with speculative thought about slavery, the spiritual realm, and Africa, thereby structuring the imaginary that propels future return flights.  She goes on to examine Black Americans’ cultural heritage tourism in and migration to Ghana; Bahia, Brazil; and various sites of slavery in the US South to interrogate the ways that a cadre of actors produces “Africa” and contests master narratives. Compellingly, these material flights do not always satisfy Black Americans’ individualistic desires for homecoming and liberation, leading Commander to focus on the revolutionary possibilities inherent in psychic speculative returns and to argue for the development of a Pan-Africanist stance that works to more effectively address the contemporary resonances of slavery that exist across the Afro-Atlantic.


Afro-Atlantic Flight is instructive and deserves a spot among the growing wave of Black geographies literature.” — Bradley Hinger, Antipode

“Commander has written a book that offers hope and optimism to Black Americans by reclaiming old wounds that surface in the contemporary moment with an alarming regularity, violent maliciousness, and/or callous indifference. With little doubt, she has made important methodological, theoretical, and political contributions to the disciplines of literary studies, American studies, performance studies, diaspora studies, cultural anthropology, and geography.” — R. Scott Carey, Journal of Critical Race Inquiry

“Wide-ranging and dynamic. Afro-Atlantic Flight makes a valuable contribution to a number of fields that take up subjects such as the contemporary politics of black American belonging, travel, and speculative narrative traditions in black expressive culture.” — Stacie Selmon Mccormick, Studies in the Novel

Afro-Atlantic Flight successfully situates the fantastic and the speculative as longstanding modalities for black survival, resistance, and solidarity. . . . Commander has produced nuanced interdisciplinary work that sustains argument and methodology throughout.” — Daylanne K. English, American Literary History

"Afro-Atlantic Flight has an ambitious premise and methodology, combining cultural studies, participant observation, and semistructured interviews. . . . An innovative aspect of the work is how it thinks beyond Africa as the sole site of cultural authenticity desired by African Americans." — Jocelyn Fenton Stitt, Meridians

"Afro-Atlantic Flight innovatively examines literature and film that thematize returns to Africa alongside nonliterary phenomena. . . . Commander’s nuanced account of how black people deploy imaginings of Africa reclaims the concept of a homeland return as politically fruitful while avoiding the pitfalls of earlier Pan-Africanist movements." — Gabriella Friedman, American Quarterly

"Afro-Atlantic Flight is a provocative and fascinating text that will also invite further study even as it engages and answers its own questions in critical and significant ways." — Susana M. Morris, CLA Journal

“Michelle D. Commander’s tremendously illuminating work will be a seminal study on the psychological, political, and quite literal flights experienced by African Americans and their kin in the post-civil rights United States and postcolonial African Diaspora. Wonderfully executed, creative, and comprehensive, Afro-Atlantic Flight deeply enhances our understanding of how signifiers like heritage, diaspora, and Africa have functioned over the last several decades.” — Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination

Afro-Atlantic Flight enters at a point at which there have been so many critiques of the mythmaking involved in imagining ‘Africa’ that the beauty, the justified yearning, and the revolutionary potential of such imagining have been lost. Michelle D. Commander escapes this trap, countering it with empathy for her objects of analysis, even as she subjects them to a critical gaze. Employing beautiful logic, a powerful argument, and writing that is both graceful and capacious, Commander brings together contemporary currents of thought in new ways to create this truly original piece of scholarship.” — Micol Seigel, author of Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michelle D. Commander is Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Fantastic Flights: the Search of Ancestral Traces in Black Speculative Narratives  25
2. The Production of Homeland Returns: Misrecognitions and the Unsteady Path toward the Black Fantastic in Ghana  75
3. "We Love to be Africans": Saudade and Affective Performance in Bahia, Brazil  123
4. Crafting Symbolic Africas in a Geography of Silence: Return Travels to and the Renarrativization of the U.S. South  173
Conclusion. "Say Me My Name": Genetic Science and the Emerging Speculative Technologies in the Construction of Afro-Atlantic Reconciliatory Projects  221
Notes  235
Bibliography  253
Index  269
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6323-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6311-8
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