In Search of the Black Fantastic
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In Search of the Black Fantastic, Richard Iton’s theorizing about the “anticolonial labor” of cultural actors who disassemble and reimagine the nation in a post-colonial era resonates with Edwidge Danticat’s essay collection Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Writer at Work, where she outlines her own philosophy of the artist’s social role. In this paper, I draw on both Iton’s cultural theories and Danticat’s essay collection to argue that her memoir, Brother, I'm Dying, performs such political work as it explores the diasporic dimensions of contemporary black cultural formation. The memoir chronicles a triad of events: the author’s unexpected pregnancy; her father’s terminal diagnosis; her uncle’s tragic death while in U.S. Customs. On the one hand, Brother, I’m Dying is a testimonio, a collective story that speaks out against injustice to gain agency through narration, as her uncle’s death in detention provided the original catalyst for this protest against imperialism. But the memoir is also a creation myth, a myth of origins, in which Danticat contemplates the influence of her uncle and father, her “two papas,” on her formation as an immigrant writer. This paper demonstrates that, as much as this memoir is about mourning her father’s and uncle’s deaths, and Haiti’s travails since independence, it also revisits Danticat’s own immigrant odyssey. The story of the black nation and subjectivity has traditionally been the story of men, with women serving only as mothers and mates that created male heirs. In creating subjectivity through nonlinear, dialogic structures in the vein of black feminists writers such as Mae G. Henderson and Audre Lorde, Brother, I’m Dying joins an intellectual tradition of black feminist writing on diaspora. Chronicling her subject formation at the hands of her father and uncle, all the while positioning herself as a mother-to-be, Danticat creates a black diasporic subjectivity beyond gender and nation.