A Diasporic Encounter: The Politics of Race and Culture at The First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists Open Access

Masse, Guirdex (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/p8418p06z?locale=en


This dissertation examines an intellectual gathering that took place in Paris in 1956, the First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists. The event was organized by a group of Francophone writers and intellectuals from the Caribbean and West Africa, and included the participation of several African American writers and intellectuals. Working from the idea that an African diasporic discourse, variedly articulated at the Congress on the basis or race, politics, and historical commonalities, undergirded the staging of the event, this study considers how selected delegates interpreted what brought them together, key moments of tension and misapprehension, and given the time in which it took place, how a black internationalist discourse articulated at the Congress was significantly informed by the politics of the Cold War.

The dissertation is structured thematically as sets of exchanges between literary figures and intellectuals rarely discussed in relation to one another. The first chapter focuses on W.E.B. Du Bois' absence from the Congress and the Cold War dynamics affecting his relationship to the African American intelligentsia. The second chapter considers the African American scholar Mercer Cook's reception of the Martinican writer Aimé Césaire's lecture, particularly the latter's aligning the African American condition with colonialism. Also examined is the tenor of their respective investigations of black subjectivity, and the political and epistemic dimensions of their visions of black identity. The third chapter focuses on Richard Wright's objection to Léopold Sédar Senghor's framing of black solidarity along a racial logic. Through Senghor's poetry and Wright's fiction and non-fiction during this period, I examine the ideas informing their respective positions. The final chapter analyzes James Baldwin's reception of the Barbadian writer George Lamming's lecture, their understanding of their racialized identities from the position of exile, and their respective visions on the paradoxical nature of racial confinement and creative freedom. Overall, I argue that the immediacy of the Cold War context and the impending era of a postcolonial reality ushered in a new historical moment that significantly shaped and altered discourses of black internationalism and further complicated the logic and practice of black transnational collaborations.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Cultural Bandung 1

Chapter One: W.E.B. Du Bois and the American Delegation at the Congress 22

Chapter Two: Aimé Césaire, Mercer Cook, and the Political and Epistemic Dimensions of Black Diasporic Identity 70

Chapter Three: Richard Wright, Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Material and Ontological Dimensions of Blackness 123

Chapter Four: The Black Writer and his Worlds--George Lamming and James Baldwin at the Congress 202

Epilogue 249

Notes 253

Bibliography 288

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