Black Utopias

Speculative Life and the Music of Other Worlds

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: February 2021

Author: Jayna Brown

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

In Black Utopias Jayna Brown takes up the concept of utopia as a way of exploring alternative states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. Musical, literary, and mystic practices become utopian enclaves in which Black people engage in modes of creative worldmaking. Brown explores the lives and work of Black women mystics Sojourner Truth and Rebecca Cox Jackson, musicians Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, and the work of speculative fiction writers Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler as they decenter and destabilize the human, radically refusing liberal humanist ideas of subjectivity and species. Brown demonstrates that engaging in utopian practices Black subjects imagine and manifest new genres of existence and forms of collectivity. For Brown, utopia consists of those moments in the here and now when those excluded from the category human jump into other onto-epistemological realms. Black people—untethered from the hope of rights, recognition, or redress—celebrate themselves as elements in a cosmic effluvium.


Black Utopias is replete with flashes of insight, important provocations, and an urgent ethical and political thrust. Jayna Brown models a patient search for intellectual kin adequate to the nightmare world of the present and its dead and deadening ideologies. She reminds us of the extent to which so much Black political thinking begins from a profound negation of the fundamental tenets of Western models of subjectivity. Ambitious, bold, and bracing, Black Utopias forcefully reorients conversations around utopia and Afrofuturism. A field-defining work.” — Anthony Reed, author of Soundworks: Race, Sound, and Poetry in Production

“What does Black speculative practice feel like under the skin? What does it sound like? Where does it take us? Jayna Brown studies centuries of strange Black diviners and offers a map over the universe that is not about the stars but about a Blackness that births and rebirths life in contradicting quantum multiplicity. Where does it get at you (under the skin)? How do you hear it calling you? Let's go.” — Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Dub: Finding Ceremony

"As the book unfolds, the pleasure Brown finds in her archival encounters with Sojourner Truth and musicians Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane is as palpable as the book’s pressed pages." — K. Avvirin Gray, Women's Review of Books


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jayna Brown is Professor in the Graduate Program in Media Studies at the Pratt Institute and author of Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction  1
Part I: Ecstasy
1. Along the Psychic Highway: Black Women Mystics and Utopias of the Ecstatic  23
2. Lovely Sky Boat: Alice Coltrane and the Metaphysics of Sound  59
Part II: Evolution
3. Our Place is Among the Stars: Octavia E. Butler and the Preservation of Species  83
4. Speculative Life: Utopia Without the Human  111
Part III: Sense and Matter
5. In the Realm of the Senses: Heterotopias of Subjectivity, Desire, and Discourse  137
6. The Freedom Not to Be: Sun Ra's Alternative Ontology  155
Conclusion  177
Notes  179
Bibliography  195
Index  205
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1167-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1054-8