“Checkpoints”—2016 Convention

IAN“Checkpoints: Global Black Literature and the Phenomenology of Movement,” Christopher Ian Foster, The Graduate Center, CUNY

joseph_color“Indigeneity and Federalism’s Fissures in the United States,” Joseph Bauerkemper, University of Minnesota Duluth

Courtney_Thorsson“Boundaries of Race, Place, and Form: The Atlanta Child Murders in African American Literature,” Courtney Thorsson, University of Oregon

Mitchell, curlyPresiding: Koritha Mitchell, Ohio State University



WHEN & WHERE: Thursday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 4BC, ACC


“Checkpoints: Global Black Literature and the Phenomenology of Movement”

In Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability, Emily Apter assesses postcolonial authors and artists who challenge the violently nationalist and xenophobic nature of the checkpoint by proffering a “politics of untranslatability,” which reveals checkpoints, borders, and various sovereignties as something like moving apartheids (Azmi Bishara’s novel Checkpoint is one example). In a lecture and conversation with Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diange, Apter describes this “darker” side to globalization. Eliot Ross paraphrases Apter’s incisive argument against “the bourgeois fiction that globalization has turned everybody into ultra-mobile cosmopolitans, a myth that’s proved especially seductive to those involved in the project of writing and institutionalizing so-called ‘world literature,’ with its array of glamorous airport-hopping protagonists. Instead, Apter points to the phenomenon of ever-intensified ‘checkpointization’ (the word ‘checkpoint’ has been creolized into most languages) and the way in which so-called ‘illegal’ residents are harassed and deported even as ‘multi-culturalism’ is lauded.” This presentation offers insights on African literary internationalism and its engagement with, and challenge to, the checkpoint as an apartheid-like apparatus within larger racializing and gendering, national and international, systems that manage and police the movements of non-white people. Cristina Ali Farah’s Little Mother, Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy, Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic and other black global novelists, confront checkpoints, partitions, and other apartheids with what I call a phenomenology of movement, engaging not just the world of objects constellating migrant experience—passports, borders, checkpoints, residence permits—but the being of immigration itself

“Indigeneity and Federalism’s Fissures in the United States”

Approaching policing and communities of color from a unique yet broadly resonant angle, this presentation will consider the complexities of law enforcement as well as territorial and personal jurisdiction in the context of sovereign American Indian nations. When the contradictions of tribal, federal, and state law unravel at the multivalent intersection of American Indian, federal, and state territory, acts of violence become ungovernable. As narrated within Anishinaabe writer Louise Erdrich’s 2012 novel The Round House—a book that pivots upon jurisdictional ambiguity—the precise location at which a rape and beating of a Native woman takes place cannot be firmly established. Because settler federalism has severely diminished tribal court purview, and because state and federal authorities routinely abdicate responsibility in such cases, a jurisdictional vacuum emerges that effectively delivers impunity to the perpetrator. By contextualizing and explicating the novel’s nuanced narration of these territorial and legal intricacies and their repercussions, this presentation posits indigeneity as an illuminating lens for considering law and literature and generates an argument on behalf of enhanced tribally-controlled court capacity and prerogative.

“Boundaries of Race, Place, and Form: The Atlanta Child Murders in African American Literature”

Contemporary African American literature responds to spectacular violence against black children. The murder of Emmett Till, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981, and the 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia appear again and again in contemporary African American nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Works by Bebe Moore Campbell, Angela Davis, Marilyn Nelson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, and Lucille Clifton, among others, use these moments to insist on an archive of state-sanctioned violence against black children, to create spaces for mourning, and to mark racially specific historical periods. I will define one set of these literary responses as part of the 2016 MLA panel “Checkpoints.”

My paper “Boundaries of Race, Place, and Form: The Atlanta Child Murders in African American Literature” examines the ways that James Baldwin’s The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), Toni Cade Bambara’s Those Bones Are Not My Child (1999), and Tayari Jones’s Leaving Atlanta (2002) attempt to narrate the unspeakable as they respond to the Atlanta child murders. These three authors grapple on the page with the sometimes competing impulses toward formal experimentation to cope with a rupture in experience; memorialization to correct the archive; and a future-oriented stance to offer models of both living with and resisting literal, legal, and rhetorical violence against black children. Through devices including excess, reportage, repetition, and shifting voice and points of view, these authors may offer readers tools for coping with, or at least narrating, our contemporary moment of spectacular state violence against black children.


Christopher Ian Foster is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at James Madison University, Virginia. He received his PhD in English from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015. His interests intersect postcolonial, transnational, and diaspora studies and his book manuscript assesses figurations of migration in twenty-first century global African literature. He has recently published articles in Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, and Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. For access to his CV and other materials, http://christopherianfoster.format.com/about

Joseph Bauerkemper is an Assistant Professor in the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth where his scholarship, outreach, and teaching emphasize politics, literature, governance, and law. He has published in Studies in American Indian Literatures, American Studies, Journal of Transnational American Studies, Settler Colonial Studies, Transmotion, Visualities: Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art, Seeing Red: Hollywood’s Pixeled Skins, and The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, and he is currently at work on a book project titled “Trans/National Narrations: Networks and Nodes in Native Writing and Governance” as well as a collaborative community history of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation. Before joining the UMD faculty, Joseph earned his PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, enjoyed one year at the University of Illinois as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in American Indian Studies, and enjoyed two years at UCLA with concurrent appointments as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the program for the study of Cultures in Transnational Perspective and as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English.

Courtney Thorsson is an assistant professor in the English Department at the University of Oregon, where she teaches, studies, and writes about African American literature from its beginnings to the present. Her book, Women’s Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women’s Novels (Virginia 2013) argues that Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison reclaim and revise cultural nationalism in their novels of the 1980s and 90s. Her articles on African American fiction and poetry have appeared in Callaloo, African American Review, and MELUS. Thorsson’s current book project, “Revolutionary Recipes,” is a study of culinary discourse and the recipe form in African American cookbooks, poetry, and fiction.

Koritha Mitchell is a literary historian, cultural critic, and associate professor of English at Ohio State University. Her research centers on African American literature, racial violence in U.S. literature and contemporary culture, and ​Black drama & performance. Her study Living with Lynching: African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890 -1930 (University of Illinois Press, 2011) won book awards from the American Theatre and Drama Society and from the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. Her articles include “James Baldwin, Performance Theorist, Sings the Blues for Mister Charlie,” which appears in American Quarterly, and “Love in Action,” which draws parallels between racial violence at the last turn of the century and anti-LGBT violence today (published by Callaloo). In March 2014, she spoke at the Library of Congress. The lecture aired on C-Span’s BookTV and is part of their online video library.​ For access to this and other resources, please visit korithamitchell.com.​

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
0 replies on ““Checkpoints”—2016 Convention”