MLA 2023 Panel Proposal: Dangerous Undertakings: Black Immigrant Artists at Work

deadline for submissions: 
March 18, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Joanna Davis-McElligatt, University of North Texas

MLA 2023 Special Session Proposal • San Francisco, CA • January 5-8

In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, the Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat contends that the immigrant experience requires subjects to repeatedly confront—both at home and abroad—the entanglements of their “perceived usefulness and precarious citizenship.” For poor immigrants facing the precarities of declining labor standards and opportunity, the variegated economic impacts of climate change, and increasingly common political instability, the “displaced are indeed sometimes better off in places far from their impoverished homes”—yet, Danticat asks, “must poverty also force us to live deprived of homestead, birthplace, history, memory?” Displaced immigrants in the United States, Danticat argues, form a “country within a country, that other America … that is always on the brink of humanitarian and ecological disaster.” In the immigrant nation within a nation, people are always working to remember the past—one’s home, one’s previous entanglements, loyalties, and loves—while struggling to create new futures in seemingly impossible and unpredictable circumstances. As catastropic diasters that attend life in late capitalism become increasingly widespread, as war, cataclysmic ecological devastation, hunger, violence, and diminishing access to life-sustaining care become increasingly ordinary, the labor of immigrant art serves a critical function for those in exile, on the run, displaced, or imperiled by circumstances beyond their control. This work, Danticat insists, “creat[es] a revolt against silence, creating when both the creation and reception, the writing and the reading, are dangerous undertakings, disobedience to a directive.”

This panel will explore the “dangerous undertaking” of representing the creative, intellectual, and affectual work of Black immigrants from locations throughout the diaspora to the United States. How have Black immigrants understood and articulated their working conditions as laborers, as artists, as global subjects? How do Black immigrants represent the work of navigating the materiality of citizenship? How have Black immigrants represented and performed the labor of memory and history-making? How does the “perceived usefulness” of Black immigrant labor dovetail with the production of art, media, and culture about Black immigrant experiences? How can the material realities of “precarious citizenship” attending the Black immigrant experience be productively related to those of African Americans, the descendants of the enslaved in the United States, to other immigrants to the nation-state, and/or to Indigenous peoples?

Possible topics might include:

  • Black immigration in the afterlife of slavery
  • The working conditions of Black immigrant undocumented labor
  • Black immigrant resistance to environmental displacement and ecological precarity
  • Representations of Afropolitans and wealthy Black immigrant labor
  • Archipelagic constructions of Black immigration to the United States
  • The work of translating Black immigrant literature
  • Black immigrants and the Door of No Return

Proposals are especially welcome from contingent faculty, graduate students, minoritized scholars, and racialized academics. 

Please return brief bios and abstracts of 300 words to by March 18th.

Joanna Davis-McElligatt is an Assistant Professor of Black Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of North Texas. She is co-editor of Narratives of Marginalized Identities in Higher Education: Inside and Outside the Academy (2019) and Narrating History, Home, and Dyaspora: Critical Essays on Edwidge Danticat (2022). She is currently at work on her first monograph, entitled Black and Immigrant: Diaspora, Belonging, and Time in American Literature after 1965, a study of representations of immigrants of African descent from Afropolitans to Wakandan Americans.