Difficult Diasporas

The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

281 pages

September, 2013

ISBN: 9780814770092



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Samantha Pinto is Associate Professor of Feminist Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department at Georgetown University.

All books by Samantha Pinto

Winner of the 2013 Modern Language Association's William Sanders Scarborough Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Study of Black American Literature

In this comparative study of contemporary Black Atlantic women writers, Samantha Pinto demonstrates the crucial role of aesthetics in defining the relationship between race, gender, and location. Thinking beyond national identity to include African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Black British literature, Difficult Diasporas brings together an innovative archive of twentieth-century texts marked by their break with conventional literary structures. These understudied resources mix genres, as in the memoir/ethnography/travel narrative Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston, and eschew linear narratives, as illustrated in the book-length, non-narrative poem by M. Nourbese Philip, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. Such an aesthetics, which protests against stable categories and fixed divisions, both reveals and obscures that which it seeks to represent: the experiences of Black women writers in the African Diaspora.
Drawing on postcolonial and feminist scholarship in her study of authors such as Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Alexander, Erna Brodber, Ama Ata Aidoo, among others, Pinto argues for the critical importance of cultural form and demands that we resist the impulse to prioritize traditional notions of geographic boundaries. Locating correspondences between seemingly disparate times and places, and across genres, Pinto fully engages the unique possibilities of literature and culture to redefine race and gender studies.


  • Difficult Diasporas charts a dazzlingly fecund constellation of black feminist literature by Anglophone writers from the US, the UK, the Caribbean, and Africa. Pinto reads an archive of ‘stray companions,’ a disparate array of writers linked less by influence, lineage, or geography than an adamant contention that the only literature adequate to the historical dislocation of diaspora is a literature that is formally dislocated—a literature of radical experimentation, even opacity and disorder. Poised at the crossroads between literary innovation and transnational culture, Difficult Diasporas will be known as a model of what it means to read for a feminist poetics of diaspora.”

    —Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora

  • "In Difficult Diasporas, Pinto shows how we might approach some of these texts as readers and literary critics and, ultimately, why we need to risk teaching them...An ambitious project."


  • “There are lessons to be learned from this study.”

    The Journal of African American History

  • “By illustrating carefully the core contradictions of diaspora that fail to address problems of representation and nonnormative experiences for black women adequately and critically, Pinto provides an important and necessary venue to place gender at the center of aesthetic and formal representations of diaspora.”

    Contemporary Women's Writing

  • “The central idea of Samantha Pinto’s Difficult Diasporas is simple – in a good way – and worthy of pursuit.”


  •  “In its richness of content and advancement of the fields of African diaspora and feminist studies, Difficult Diasporas proves that such risks can yield…groundbreaking scholarship.” 

    Gender, Place, & Culture