Posted by: Khepera | Friday, 26 March 2010

Interesting new book: Legba’s Crossing

From Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot. Have yet to see a copy, but I thought I’d pass the word along…


In My Own Words: Heather D. Russell (2010)

Heather D. Russell

Posted: 25 Mar 2010 10:35 PM PDT

As with any book, I arrived at Legba’s Crossing:  Narratology in the African Atlantic (2009) through a journey marked by crossroads (life’s experience), pathways (routes/roots), intuition (intrinsic commitment to justice and light) and divine inspiration (strictly a calling).  The following reminiscences reflect some of these:

– I remember the first time I met Damballah, powerful Haitian loa of the sky.  I met him as an undergraduate at Rutgers, reading a John Edgar Wideman novel.  I felt an instant spiritual/ideological connection, BUT I was also just meeting Sambo, Mammy, Jezebel, I mean I had seen them all over…but understood them now.  I wrestled with these counter-narratives:  the debased, dehumanizing, distorted representations of black people and how these images have been used to oppress us…and then, in stark contrast, this god…African, New World, powerful, philosophical, resistant, hidden.  Could/would the one be used/useful to subvert the other?  I could not answer that question definitively then…until I met Legba…

– As a lover of literature, I have never cottoned to linearity.  Grand narratives, neat, tidy endings, building chronologically or even teleologically — always bored me.  I remember sophomore year, the first time I read Tristam Shandy and Eliot’s The Wasteland…I would not read in quite the same way after…and still…I had not yet gleaned how chronology and linearity were political tools, how these had been used to misrepresent, to distort, to silence, to simplify my history.

– Long before the death of the author was proclaimed, I was always infinitely more intrigued by the experience of reading a novel than the actual details revealed in it! Did it surprise?  Did it refuse to conform to my expectations?  WHO WAS I, at the end of the novel?  I suppose I have always been a non-con-form-ist!

Legba’s Crossing is an attempt to theorize the revolutionary potential of the experience of reading…

– Growing up in Jamaica as the daughter of a Baptist minister from Free Town, Clarendon, a theologian and a Garveyite, a historian and advocate for the spiritually/materially dispossessed – I was taught by both of my parents to be inquisitive — to question the status quo, to live a life in which works on earth were the most important manifestation of spirituality.  In 1976, my father was called to the historic East Queen Street Baptist Church in downtown Kingston where I began attending.  I was viscerally struck by social class inequity as a very young child.  My father had established a free medical and dental clinic for the community, housed at the church.  One day, when I was about seven-years old, a woman came for some treatment, but was, according to the deacon that drove her out of the churchyard, improperly dressed.  It was my earliest memory of the pervasive classism that is so deeply entrenched in Jamaica…I would later understand how color, colonialism, sexism, classism, poverty, violence, invisibility were interwoven…

– Legba’s Crossing is the culmination of years of research (some formal, some informal) — It is a study in African Atlantic form, philosophy, aesthetics, history, politics, literature and the struggle of black people to live lives of dignity, decency, equity and fairness.

– In Legba’s Crossing, I examine literary texts, all of which engage key historical moments of black subjugation and resistance and which through their narrative structure, break with traditional forms governing time, space, narration, and conventional Western knowledge structures.  Diasporic and cross-temporal, my work includes analyses of:  the C19th Xhosa cattle killing in South Africa, US Reconstruction, the Grenada Revolution and invasion, Independence and post-Independence movement in Jamaica, Trinidad, US Civil Rights, and “globalization and race” in its African diasporic contexts.

Legba’s Crossing is an attempt to examine the radical, democratizing, revolutionary potential of form…

– Invoking the Haitian loa Papa Legba, who is the “god of the crossroads” — as the sign of such African Atlantic narrative intervention — I explore the philosophical, epistemological, and ethical concepts embodied by this god.

– I met Papa Legba, first through Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey, who examines Legba’s West African corollary:  Eshu-Elegbara.  By the time I had read about Eshu-Elegbara, Yoruba god of the crossroads, god of divine purpose, meaning, interpretation, I was not only viscerally interrupted, BUT for the first time, after being inundated with European theory, philosophy/ers, in graduate school, I realized that so much of current African Atlantic cultural production made much more sense once I understood Legba’s principles:  indeterminacy, nuance, contradiction, flexibility, Legba’s mandate that the human being must struggle with/for understanding, apprehension, divine purpose.  Jazz made more sense with Legba.  Our propinquity towards improvisation, disruption of flow, linearity, chronology.  Hip-hop made more sense with Legba.  African diaspora literature made more sense with Legba.

Legba’s Crossing:  Narratology in the African Atlantic is my humble attempt to pull together some of the aforementioned tangled skeins of meaning…àshe.

For ordering information see:



About the author:

Dr. Heather Russell’s research interests examine narrative form and its relationship to configurations of national/racial identities. Her latest book, Legba’s Crossing: Narratology in the African Atlantic, was published by the University of Georgia Press. She has also published in African American Review; Contours; The Massachusetts Review; and American Literature and has essays in a collection on John Edgar Wideman, Jacqueline Bishop’s, My Mother Who is Me, and Donna Aza Weir-Soley and Opal Palmer Adisa’s Caribbean Erotic.

At the undergraduate level, Dr. Russell regularly teaches C19th and C20th African American  Literatures; Major Caribbean Writers; Black Citizenships and Black History and the Fictive Imagination. For the graduate curriculum, she teaches African Diaspora Women Writers and Narratives of Enslavement and Resistance.


  1. great book!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: