By Christopher Schmidt,
“Marvelous and somehow sad, flamboyant, and threatening.”
The words are Elizabeth Bishop’s, writing in a letter to describe the extraordinary tropical plant life encountered at the Sítio Burle Marx, the hundred-acre home and nursery of Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil’s best-known landscape architect and a key figure in the country’s modernist movement. Although Bishop had already lived in Brazil for ten years when she wrote this, the Sítio Burle Marx, located on the western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, was and continues to be an incomparably rich showcase for botanical exotica collected on the designer’s many scouting expeditions to remote Brazilian biomes.
By Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, University of Bristol
In a 1947 letter to Ernst Boas, the son of anthropologist Franz Boas, the American writer Muriel Rukeyser confesses, “May I tell you how, as it begins to open before me, how much this inquiry into your father’s life is meaning to me? The stories are very beautiful, the clues to further meaning are illuminating. I begin to see the power of the connections. I am very happy to be doing this.” In the same letter she writes that she is pregnant, a “happy” complication to the work.
By Emily Hyde, Rowan University
1959: The Atlantic magazine devotes its April issue to “Africa South of the Sahara.” Articles on the politics of decolonization frame a large number of contributions on art and culture. A short story by Chinua Achebe appears alongside the work of Nadine Gordimer, Tom Mboya, Léon Damas, Léopold Sédar-Senghor, Amos Tutuola, and David Diop. “The Sacrificial Egg” is Achebe’s first story published in the United States, and its timing supports the US release of his novel Things Fall Apart. Unlike that classic novel, the story begins in a recognizably modern Nigeria, with a young clerk named Julius Obi sitting alone in a colonial shipping office, gazing at his typewriter.
By Michael Abraham,
In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1993), Toni Morrison calls for “studies of the technical ways in which an Africanist character is used to limn out and enforce the invention and implications of whiteness. . . . Such studies,” she continues, “will reveal the process of establishing others in order to know them, to display knowledge of the other so as to ease and to order external and internal chaos.” In demonstrating the reflexive role that Africanist personae play in white American literature—the manner by which white people construct blackness as a screen for the projections that enable, through simultaneous disavowal and enforcement, their identifications as white—“Such studies will reveal the process by which it is made possible to explore and penetrate one’s own body in the guise of the sexuality, vulnerability, and anarchy of the other” (Morrison, Playing, 53).