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The Black Renaissance and Its Nordic Affiliations

Tampere University
1.9.2021–31.8.2024
Area of focusSociety

Overview

My postdoctoral research project analyzes how debates regarding race, racism, and equity developed and traveled through literature between the U.S. and the Nordic countries during the first half of the twentieth century. I focus on the Black Renaissance (also known as the Harlem Renaissance), which was a cultural flourishing of African American modernist arts characterized by a belief that culture can play a major role in the fight for racial justice.

Even though Black Renaissance authors were influenced by Nordic literature and in turn affected discussions of culture, race, and society in the Nordic countries, their works have not been extensively translated into Nordic languages or studied in academia. My project aims to trace the underexplored ways in which Nordic literature affected the development of Black Renaissance arts, and how the products of that Renaissance, conversely, were later appropriated into a largely white political and cultural context in Northern Europe. The connections between black authors and the Nordic region were surprisingly manifold and myriad in the early 1900s. Black Renaissance authors visited and sometimes lived in the region, they read Nordic prose and drama, and some of their texts were inhabited with Nordic characters, settings, and intertextual connections to Nordic literatures. For many, these Northern European characters, settings, and literatures became a way of imagining and discussing race and racism beyond the segregationist color-line of the U.S.

Goals

My project provides a diachronic and comparative analysis of the development of discussions on race and literary modernisms in two regions of the world that are seldom associated with one another. Thus, the project renews both literary history, modernist studies, and our understanding of the cultural formation of race and racism. The aim is to produce knowledge on the role that literature and culture have played in developing new forms of solidarity and racial justice across national borders. By analyzing the intertwined cultural and racial histories of the two regions, the project provides much needed historical understanding to present-day discussions of racial equality.

Contact person

Iida Pöllänen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, iida.pollanen [at] tuni.fi

Funding

Research Council of Finland

Partners

The project is hosted by Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies at Tampere University.

The project is jointly affiliated with the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism (CEMFOR) at Uppsala University and the English Department at Cornell University.