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Journeys and Journals

Women's Mystery Writing and Migration in the African Diaspora


Carol Allen

Using literary criticism, theory, and sociohistoric data, this book brings into conversation black migrations with mystery novels by African American women, novels which explore fully the psychic, economic, and spiritual impact of mass migratory movements. Diaspora travel has been forced and selected and has extended from the Slave Trade through the contemporary moment, causing the black subject to wrestle with motion, the self in motion, the community in motion, the spirit in motion, culture in motion, and especially the past in motion. Reviewing these major migratory patterns of Africans to and within the United States from slavery to the present and defining the primary tropes and traditions in African American female mystery writing, each subsequent chapter looks intensely at specific figurative locations that could become a repository for reconstituted dense space in the new world. Detectives as penned by African American women writers sound out and deliberate over the viability of integrated institutions, the family, Bohemianism, religion, cities, class consciousness, and finally culture. Courses on African American literature, African American history and culture, detective fiction, urban studies, and women’s studies would find the book instructive.
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4: Family Compounds


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Family in its broadest definition as a unit formed around intimate associations is the single most heralded route to recover a dense place in the African-American female mystery genre. That is: these novelists view kinship networks as a stone road, a series of pavement slabs in the guise of intimate associates that when linked point toward a regeneration of lost dense spaces. This makes sense because the original, socially and culturally saturated geographies in Africa were named so because they housed the experiences of the living, the memories and agencies of ancestral spirits (along with active natural entities such as lakes, animals, winds, and plants). While there is no apparent hierarchy between human and natural elements in the composition of these home realms, both are required in order for an actual physical plane to acquire the properties that constitute an interactive play between the living and the dead or unborn and between human and nonhuman actors. Efforts to reactivate this type of worldview emerged on the plantations and farms where enslaved Africans resided. Transported African-Americans could fairly easily learn to read and listen to nature as, for instance, Frederick Douglass does in his famous slave narrative.1 Sometimes this was the only type of education that enslaved Africans could claim, so the regard for and the link between human and not human survived as slaves trained their senses to be acutely attuned to the environment. However, reestablishing ancestral links was an altogether more ← 69 | 70 → challenging task because...

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