Poetry News

The Soviet Union's 1933 Anthology Africa in America

By Harriet Staff

Scholar Jennifer Wilson cracks open an anthology published by Soviet artists in 1933 under the title Africa in America. "The Soviet anthology, as reported by the Associated Negro Press, was to include poems by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay (who had spent time in Moscow in 1922 as a delegate of the Communist International) and others," writes Wilson today for the Paris Review. Furthermore:

Appearing in the early 1930s, “Africa in America arrived somewhat late to what scholar Brent Hayes Edwards describes as early twentieth-century Europe’s “obsession with anthologizing the Negro.” In his book, The Practices of Diaspora, Edwards writes: “in a rush that with hindsight is astonishing . . . there was great interest in researching, notating, transcribing, assembling, and packing almost anything having to do with populations of African descent.” Edwards notes that anthologies often served to either frame black people as backwards and inferior or conversely as modern, cultured, equal to whites. Anthologies were never merely archival, he insists, but meant to demonstrate something essential about blackness. For the Soviets, the anthology was part and parcel of their plan to situate “the Negro” (particularly the American Negro) as a natural political ally during the Cold War. But that framing required, as framing tends to do, a certain degree of distortion, one aided in this case by the process of translation.

Read more about the Soviet uses of translation to build ties at the Paris Review.


Originally Published: May 16th, 2018