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“There’s not a breathing of the common wind that will forget thee”: Haiti attraverso il Rinascimento nero

Ray, the Haitian intellectual, and Jake, the free-spirited main character of Home to Harlem, Claude McKay’s successful novel, meet in the dining car of a train to Pittsburgh, where they are both employed. An immediate sympathy is born between the two, and if the pretext for a first conversation is the book Ray is reading, Sapho by Alphonse Daudet, short is the step from the lexicon of female homosexuality to the reference to the Haitian Revolution and its protagonists, up to Wordsworth’s sonnet dedicated to Toussaint Louverture. A dreamy Jake listens attentively to Ray’s lesson on the exemplary struggles and the constellation of relationships that contribute to compose the multifarious circum-Atlantic black community. In a comparable way for many crucial writers of the Black Renaissance, Haiti came to represent – not without contradictions and disputes – one of the most significant emotional and ideal centers for the elaboration of a transnational community, making a “shared lexicon of the revolution” available, as well as the vision of a third space of resistance and imagination. We owe this configuration to the partial overlapping of intellectual fields and aesthetic projects that were not always aligned and could be, in some cases, even discordant: Johnson’s demands for liberation certainly did not correspond to Hurston’s ideas on safeguarding Haiti, and the sweet island imagined by Hughes and Arna Bontemps in the children’s book Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti (1932) does not seem close to McKay’s radical realism. These articulations of Haiti as a topos, as an object of research, as a physical place of travel, encounters, and origins, as a melting pot of relationships, and of Haiti’s memory as the cornerstone of a collective history and the occasion of an alternative one, are far from homogeneous.

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Renata Morresi
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Saint-Domingue/Haiti: l'altra Rivoluzione americana
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