The black prairies: history, subjectivity, writing




Vernon, Karina J.

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This dissertation contributes to the fields of Canadian literature and black cultural studies in Canada a new regional archive of literature, the black prairie archive. It unearths and brings critical attention, for the first time, to the unknown history and cultural production of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century black pioneer writers on the Canadian prairies, and connects this historical literature to the work of contemporary black prairie authors. The black prairie archive thus brings together one hundred and thirty five years of black writing on the prairies, from 1873-2008. Theorized in terms of what Pierre Nora calls a lieu de mémoire, or a site of memory, the black prairie archive operates as a site of collective black-inflected memory on the prairies. It retrieves memory of a repressed but important black history and culture and brings it into consciousness of the present historical moment. In its ability to remember what has been repressed and forgotten, the archive functions as a literary counterhistory, calling attention to the aggressive exclusions and erasures involved in the historical, social, critical, and legal construction of the prairies as an ideological—not a geographic—space in relation to race. In addition to bringing a new regional black literature to light, this study offers the black prairie archive as a discursive formation that points to a new methodology, a methodology capable of addressing the limits of certain critical debates in Canada. Specifically, it offers a strategy for theorizing black belonging and territoriality in terms other than the problematic metaphors of black indigeneity; for reading the regional particularities of black prairie literature and subjectivity; and for overcoming the impasse at the centre of black Canadian cultural studies, represented by the debate between Rinaldo Walcott and George Elliott Clarke, regarding which model, the archival or diasporic, best articulates the space of black Canada. The black prairie archive demonstrates how the archive can become a critical, activist, anti-national strategy for recovering repressed black histories, literatures, and presences.



Black Canadian cultural studies, Canadian prairies