Claude McKay, English Language Notes: Romance in Marseille Special Issue

deadline for submissions: 
September 1, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Gary Holcomb, William J. Maxwell
contact email: 

Call for Papers for Special Issue of English Language Notes: Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille

Gary Edward Holcomb and William J. Maxwell, co-editors 

In February 2020, Claude McKay’s novel Romance in Marseille, completed around 1933, will be published for the first time by Penguin Classics. English Language Notes (ELN) has agreed to devote a guest-edited special issue to commentary on the novel. Much as the publication of Romance in Marseille promises to stretch the categories of Harlem Renaissance and black transnational literatures and cultures, the editors hope to use the text as a launching point for new critical discussions of modernism, African American studies, LGBTQ studies, disability studies, and the history of publishing institutions. The editors are especially interested in essays that explore the text’s queering of colonialism, its blackening of disability, its critical examination of Marxist organizing among black dockworkers and merchant sailors, its normalizing of both female and male sex labor, its recasting of the Black Atlantic as a “stowaway” culture of modernity , and related themes.

The editors would be happy to send scholars interested in contributing to the special issue a PDF copy of the complete typescript of Romance in Marseille, housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For the PDF of the novel manuscript, contact Gary Holcomb (for email, see below).

ELN’s critical focus is transhistoricism, and Romance in Marseille is a good candidate for analysis that is not necessarily obliged to traditional historicist constraints. The novel’s pertinence to contemporary critical concerns, synthesized with its transhistorical textual history, speaks volumes to a range of past and present moments. How might the novel’s protracted absenteeism and sudden appearance be read in transhistorical terms?

Related to the question of transhistoricizing the novel, contributors also might consider the question of how disability intersects with questions of race, sexuality, labor, migration, and modernist culture (see Davis, Bending Over Backwards, 2002). How can race and other cultural formations converse with modernism and inform rich readings of Romance’s queer economy, linguistic and national boundary crossings, interdictions against the truncated black male body, Fanonian theories of colonial repression, and beyond?

In view of the novel’s stowaway imagery, of one body effectively shipping itself across the Atlantic,how might Romance in Marseille be read in terms of “black abjection” (see Sharpe, In the Wake, 2016)? What can it tell us about the ways in which the sign of the slave ship marks and haunts black life in the diaspora, and how the specter of “the hold” produces ongoing conditions of containment, regulation, and punishment?

In view of McKay’s role as architect of Négritude and champion of Bergsonian élan vital, what might the novel reveal about the origins of black literary primitivism as an aesthetic rising in reaction to imperialism (see Etherington, Literary Primitivism, 2018)?

Finally, what might Romance in Marseille offer to the project of retheorizing humanism, against the Enlightenment grain, in light of the histories of slavery, racism, and colonialism (see Reid-Pharr, Archives of Flesh, 2016)? Can a heterodox rethinking of humanism reveal how Romance in Marseille exposes repressive discourses fastened to the black “animal” epidermis?

Essays of twenty- to twenty-five manuscript pages are invited from scholars in all fields. Interested authors should feel free to contact the editors: Gary Holcomb, Ohio University, at, and/or William J. Maxwell, Washington University in St. Louis, at

Potential contributors should submit an article abstract/proposal by September 1, 2019, though it would be a good idea to contact one or both editors in advance. The completed article is expected by February 1, 2020. Time permitting, editors may share accepted contributions with co-contributors, encouraging authors to hold critical conversations. While the editors invite standard-length, single-author academic articles, we are open to other methods of critical inquiry related to the issue’s theme: position papers, clusters, roundtable discussions, book reviews, interviews, dialogues, and so on.

Essays will undergo peer review. All submissions should adhere to the Chicago-style endnote citation format. Submissions should be uploaded to ELN’s peer-review website: