Aesthetics & Theory across Africa & Afro-Diaspora

On Twitter, I posed a question about which African and Afro-Diasporic writers worked across aesthetics and theory, writing fiction, poetry, drama, or screenplays while also generating critical and theoretical texts. I broached the question briefly in Frottage:

The aesthetic dimension often subtends intellectual projects, including how disciplines and fields are imagined and created. Black intellectuals who engaged these fields and disciplines needed to reckon with how the black was figured within them—with the aesthetic dimension—just as much as they needed to challenge faulty data and racist arguments. It was not enough to present better data or more complete archives or even more sophisticated arguments so long as the aesthetic dimension to post-Renaissance discourses remained unchallenged. (p. 72)

From at least the late nineteenth century, African and Afro-diasporic intellectuals pursued a double strategy of writing and publishing in specific disciplines while also creating aesthetic works. Pauline Hopkins wrote speculative philosophy (A Primer of Facts Pertaining to the Early Greatness of the African Race and the Possibility of Restoration by Its Descendants) and fiction (Of One Blood); W. E. B. Du Bois published foundational work in sociology (The Philadelphia Negro) and fiction (Dark Princess); Zora Neale Hurston published fiction (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and ethnography (Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica); Aimé Césaire published poetry (Return of a Native to the Native Land) and anticolonial critique (Discourse on Colonialism); C. L. R. James wrote fiction (Minty Alley) and political history (The Black Jacobins); and Léopold Sédar Senghor published poetry and political philosophy. In the latter part of the twentieth century, this strategy continued in work by Kamau Brathwaite (historian and poet), Édouard Glissant (novelist and philosopher), Sylvia Wynter (novelist and philosopher), and Micere Mugo (poet and literary critic). These writers understood that in pursuing freedom for African and Afro-diasporic people, they had to challenge not only the disciplinary conventions that wrote them out of history and pathologized them, but also the imaginative and affective elements that subtend disciplinary rules. (p. 69-70)


On Twitter, I asked if other people would contribute a list of figures who worked across theory and aesthetics, and many generous people submitted names. In no particular order, and, yes, I know, I will repeat some of those I mentioned in Frottage.

  • Beatriz Nascimento
  • George Lamming
  • Suzan-Lori parks
  • Amiri Baraka
  • Larry Neal
  • Glenda Dickerson
  • Pearl Cleage
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Langston Hughes
  • Shirley Graham Du Bois
  • Pauline Hopkins
  • Aimé Césaire
  • Frantz Fanon
  • Toni Morrison
  • Darieck Scott
  • Tsitsi Jaji
  • Fred Moten
  • Nathaniel Mackey
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  • Lewis Nkosi
  • Njabulo Ndebele
  • Barbara Boswell
  • June Jordan
  • Alice Walker
  • Toni Cade Bambara
  • Rozena Maart
  • Bessie Head
  • Patrick Chamoiseaux
  • Audre Lorde
  • Dionne Brand
  • M. NourbeSe Philip
  • Pat Parker
  • Hortense Spillers
  • Derek Walcott
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Dambudzo Marechera
  • Badu
  • René Depestre
  • Stella Nyanzi
  • Neo Musangi
  • duduzo Makhathini
  • Gcina Mhlophe
  • Lewis Gordon
  • David Ikard
  • Sofia Samatar
  • bdias Nascimento
  • Quince Duncan
  • Manuel Zapata Olivella
  • Cubena
  • Mukoma Wa Ngugi
  • Gabeba Baderoon
  • Tendayi Sithole
  • Albert Murray
  • Francis Nyamnjoh
  • Ralph Ellison
  • Okot p’Bitek

This is a very incomplete list, but what a wealth!

There’s much material here to think about what these figures imagined the aesthetic could—and can—do to interrupt or supplement or supplant or lubricate the critical and the theoretical.

From brief twitter exchanges, some of the work mapping this aesthetic and critical weaving is happening. I would wish for a lot more.

Thank you to everyone who contributed their time and knowledge toward this list.

4 thoughts on “Aesthetics & Theory across Africa & Afro-Diaspora

  1. I’m so glad you created this post. I was busy taking screen shots of the lists people posted!

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. I’m almost positive I missed some names. I hope what’s here allows other branching out and thinking, especially in the regions and geohistories I don’t know much about.

  2. thank you back for compiling it for us… hope that things will come of it!

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