REVIEW by Carl Plasa

NWR Issue 99

Black Skin, Blue Books: African Americans and Wales, 1845-1945

by Daniel G WIlliams

Despite the expectations fostered by its title, Daniel G Williams’ impressive new book is indebted less to the theoretical insights developed in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952) than to those of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Gilroy’s project in his hugely influential work is to challenge the type of thinking which views the literatures and cultures of the Atlantic world as hermetically sealed off from one another and irrevocably tied to the nations from which they spring. He argues instead that they should be explored in terms of the relations of dialogue by which they are mutually connected, shaped and transformed.

Yet even as Williams takes his methodological cue from Gilroy’s work, his own focus on the relationships between African Americans and Wales adds something fresh, uncovering aspects of the black Atlantic experience hitherto largely ignored and disaggregating the concept of ‘Britishness’ which, as he points out, transatlantic critics often crudely equate with ‘Englishness’. In this way, Williams simultaneously enriches our understanding of the seemingly disparate materials with which he is concerned, while refining the paradigm he inherits by giving it a distinctly Celtic inflection.

Such a project is not without its perils...

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