Literary Cartographies of Spain: Mapping Identity in African American Travel Writing

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This dissertation analyzes the considerable body of twentieth-century African American travel narratives of Spain, including those by Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Frank Yerby, and Richard Wright. Building on recent scholarship that has shifted frameworks for understanding cultural processes based on history to ones based on space or geography, it explores the imaginative geographies mapped in these African American travel narratives and examines the use of Spain as a location that permits challenges to the geopolitics inherited from early modern European mappings of the world. Spain's liminal position geographically (between Europe and Africa), historically and culturally (between West and East), and politically (between liberal secularism and religious totalitarianism) provides these writers with a variety of routes through which to both revise the dominant European imaginative geographies of the world and expand theoretical discourses of the politics of location and identity.

This dissertation argues that these African American travel narratives of Spain create literary cartographies that remap our global imaginary to enable a reconsideration of racial, ethnic, and national identities and that explore the capacity of transnationalism to transcend these categories. The figure of the Moor is central to these literary cartographies as a shifting signifier of race, ethnicity, and religion, and is used to help map individual and community identity as relational rather than fixed. In these mappings, identity is envisioned within a constantly fluctuating network of flows and mapped in relation to a variety of nodes within that network. This travel writing also highlights the importance of travel as a type of wayfinding for individuals and larger societies in need of critical self-reflection, ultimately attempting to articulate novel ways of building genuine and generative relations to others around the globe.