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My New Book!

Friday, May 21, 2021

May 21, 2021: Small Axe and America: Caribbean American Artists

[One of my favorite cultural works of the last year was Small Axe, filmmaker Steve McQueen’s anthology film series about the West Indian community in England from the 1960s through the 1980s. I’m not an EnglandStudier, but I think there are plenty of ways to apply the five wonderful films to AmericanStudying. So this week I’ll highlight a handful, leading up to a Guest Post on McQueen’s prior films!]

On a handful of the many talented Caribbean American artists who can rival the great McQueen.

1)      Claude McKay: A Jamaican American poet and key Harlem Renaissance figure whose “If We Must Die” is one of the most impassioned critical patriotic poems I know, and just the tip of the iceberg of his prolific and impressive career.  

2)      Paule Marshall: The daughter of an immigrant father (from Barbados) and an African American mother, Marshall grew up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 40s and went on to write some of the most compelling fiction of the late 20th century, from her debut novel Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) to her award-winning Praisesong for the Widow (1983) among many others.

3)      Jean-Michel Basquiat: The son of a Haitian immigrant father and a Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat became one of the late 20th century’s most groundbreaking and influential artists (and a compatriot of Andy Warhol) before his tragic death from a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Jeffrey Wright captures his essence perfectly in the 1996 film.

4)      Gloria Estefan: I could have highlighted any one of the three Cuban American musicians I discuss in that hyperlinked post in this spot, as all three (as I argued there) changed the game in their respective genres and eras. But what I can say, the rhythm got me.

5)      Sontenish Myers: I just learned about this young Jamaican American filmmaker through that excellent interview, so I won’t pretend to know much more yet than you all will when you read it too. But I wanted to make clear that there are so many young Caribbean American artists extending, amplifying, and building on these legacies, just like Steve McQueen is.

Guest Post this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other takes on Caribbean American connections?

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