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Legba's Crossing

Narratology in the African Atlantic

Title Details

Pages: 216

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/15/2011

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3879-8

List Price: $25.95


Pub Date: 11/01/2009

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2867-6

List Price: $48.95

Legba's Crossing

Narratology in the African Atlantic

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  • Description
  • Reviews

In Haiti, Papa Legba is the spirit whose permission must be sought to communicate with the spirit world. He stands at and for the crossroads of language, interpretation, and form and is considered to be like the voice of a god. In Legba’s Crossing, Heather Russell examines how writers from the United States and the anglophone Caribbean challenge conventional Western narratives through innovative use, disruption, and reconfiguration of form.

Russell’s in-depth analysis of the work of James Weldon Johnson, Audre Lorde, Michelle Cliff, Earl Lovelace, and John Edgar Wideman is framed in light of the West African aesthetic principle of àshe, a quality ascribed to art that transcends the prescribed boundaries of form. Àshe is linked to the characteristics of improvisation and flexibility that are central to jazz and other art forms. Russell argues that African Atlantic writers self-consciously and self-reflexively manipulate dominant forms that prescribe a certain trajectory of, for example, enlightenment, civilization, or progress. She connects this seemingly postmodern meta-analysis to much older West African philosophy and its African Atlantic iterations, which she calls “the Legba Principle.”

Russell's book is a welcome addition to the project of reinserting Africa into black diaspora writing in the Caribbean and the US . . . Each of Russell's chapters—one devoted to each text—is informed by her careful examination of the formal patterns of the text and her postcolonial concern with the specificity of experience and the material realities behind the narratives.


This text contributes to intellectually and academically pertinent concerns on nation and nationhood, freedom and slavery, and race, gender, and sexuality as contentious ontological sites in the conquest and reformulation of the Americas.

—Glyne Griffith, coeditor of Color, Hair, and Bone: Race in the Twenty-first Century

Legba's Crossing is a fascinating, well-written book of considerable significance to African diaspora literary studies. Professor Russell's readings of the simultaneous 'materialist immersion and formal innovation' of these writers is an original and highly generative theoretical perspective.

—Arlene R. Keizer, author of Black Subjects: Identity Formation in the Contemporary Narrative of Slavery

The words Legba and crossing signal far more than another predictable book tracing the here and there of a so-called Black Atlantic. Legba’s Crossing heralds, instead, a virtuoso scholarly cross over. Russell arrives resolutely at comprehensively nuanced and analytical ports of call. Her critical voyage is scintillatingly original, manifestly interdisciplinary, and instructive. Readers will find themselves renewed by her activist scholarship as well as her formalist analyses. Legba’s Crossing indisputably pilots Diaspora Studies to the forefront of contemporary expressive cultural analysis and debate.

—Houston A. Baker, Distinguished University Professor, Vanderbilt University

Herself a progeny of hybrid Caribbean, Russell offers to Caribbean literary and theological conversation a significant volume on narratology in the African Atlantic diaspora. . . .Legba’s Crossing offers significant vistas in Black Atlantic hermeneutics that Black theological discourse may do well to pay close attention to, as it engages with Black Atlantic authors across disciplines. The authorial choices of these literary artistes from the USA and the Caribbean challenged the hegemonic, chronological, and linear Euro-Western narratives through creative/strategic use, disruption, and reconfiguration of form.

—Michael N. Jagessar, Black Theology

Heather Russell’s Legba’s Crossing . . . extends discussions of Afromodernism, offering the Legba Principle as a frame for reading what certain African Atlantic writers . . . achieve in the emancipatory poetics.

—Merdith M. Gadsby, MELUS

Legba’s Crossing puts Heather Russell among the best of her generation of scholars, adept in reading both formal literature and its theory and popular culture. Her work demonstrates a fluidity in its critical movements between Caribbean and U.S. African American textualities. Her book dislodges the earlier Black Atlantic discourse from its North Atlantic framing and makes it applicable to a larger African diaspora understanding. Legba, who has been coming through in a variety of other texts, is a prominent articulator of a middle-passage epistemology, which finally gets full presentation here. Above all, Heather Russell demonstrates an ease, confidence, and critical astuteness, particularly in her attention to what she calls the "formal eruptions of the African Atlantic.

—Carole Boyce Davies, author of Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

About the Author/Editor

HEATHER RUSSELL is an assistant professor of English at Florida International University.