Set between the rise of the U.S. and Japan as Pacific imperial powers in the 1890s and the aftermath of the latter’s defeat in World War II, Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific traces the interrelated migrations of African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Filipinos across U.S. domains.
Offering readings in literature, blues and jazz culture, film,theatre, journalism, and private correspondence, Vince Schleitwiler considers how the collective yearnings and speculative destinies of these groups were bound together along what W.E.B. Du Bois called the world-belting color line. The links were forged by the paradoxical practices of race-making in an aspiring empire—benevolent uplift through tutelage, alongside overwhelming sexualized violence—which together comprise what Schleitwiler calls “imperialism’s racial justice.” This process could only be sustained through an ongoing training of perception in an aesthetics of racial terror, through rituals of racial and colonial violence that also provide the conditions for an elusive countertraining.
With an innovative prose style, Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific pursues the poetic and ethical challenge of reading, or learning how to read, the black and Asian literatures that take form and flight within the fissures of imperialism’s racial justice. Through startling reinterpretations of such canonical writers as James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Toshio Mori, and Carlos Bulosan, alongside considerations of unexpected figures such as the musician Robert Johnson and the playwright Eulalie Spence, Schleitwiler seeks to reactivate the radical potential of the Afro-Asian imagination through graceful meditations on its representations of failure, loss, and overwhelming violence.
“Brilliant in its dramatic sweep and analytic nuance, Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific is a bold examination of the intersections between African American and Asian American cultural production as they emerge from competing imperialist discourses. Schleitwiler’s approach is groundbreaking, synthesizing a remarkable range of texts to provide unexpected and evocative conclusions.”-Helen Jun,author of Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoli
"Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific is an inventive study of African American and Asian American literature as a point of entry into the ways in which empire and race have been intertwined and how race-based movements for liberation have often unwittingly embraced imperial logics. Unearthing critically forgotten fiction and non-fiction texts, Schleitwiler makes an outstanding contribution, with virtuosic interpretations not only of the literary texts themselves, but of the broader social texts in which they circulate. Intelligent, moving, and extraordinarily generative, Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific makes use the messy contradictions of the past as a way of understanding the enormous tasks that face us in the present."-George Lipsitz,author of How Racism Takes Place