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Always Elsewhere
The Book


Reprinted below is the Introduction to Always Elsewhere (pp. viii-xix). The references in the end-notes have been adjusted to include full bibliographical information rather than the author-date style used in the book, which cross-referred with the Bibliography. Otherwise the text remains unchanged.

References to page numbers in the text refer to extracts included in the main part of the book. Numbers in square brackets indicate the original page numbers of the Introduction.

Alasdair Pettinger (ed), Always Elsewhere: Travels of the Black Atlantic (London and New York: Cassell, 1998)



In this book, former slaves recall the traumas of the Middle Passage, while African American tourists tell of journeys made in the opposite direction two hundred years later. You can read a famous jazz musician's thoughts on British justice, and the love letters of a revolutionary en route from Vera Cruz to New Orleans. One writer describes the English Lake District for an abolitionist newspaper in the United States; another notes in his diary his impressions of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Within these pages, a merchant seaman wryly observes the pleasure-seeking passengers on his ship in the Far East; a concert pianist has a narrow escape in the back streets of Santiago, Chile; a child joins her aunt in New York; a nurse surveys the battlefields at the close of the Crimean War, wondering where she will go next. In one extract an American, denied a passport for thirty years, returns to Barcelona. In another, a Cuban exile addresses students in Prague.

Travel writing has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. Classics have been reissued, forgotten works brought to light, and contemporary authors have taken to the genre with renewed enthusiasm. The literature now boasts a considerable body of critical and historical analysis. But who writes about travel and why?

Bill Buford, the former editor of Granta magazine, which has done much to rekindle this new interest in travel writing, suggests it is the product of a particular set of circumstances - 'where a traveller goes to a place where we haven't been, is prepared to undergo some sort of adventure,and comes back with something we didn't know.' This is certainly not a neutral definition. It is a defence of travel writing 'in its most traditional and old-fashioned sense,' set against 'tourist writing' - the kind of writing which appears in newspapers and colour supplements and 'is fundamentally about place and places that are pleasant to be in.'1

Whether this contrast holds, and how 'traditional and old-fashioned' it actually is, may well be open to question, but it does capture something of the flavour of travel writing as it is commonly construed. It suggests what makes a particular text count as 'travel writing', allowing it to be marketed, reviewed and read as such. It is not simply an account of a journey; there are quite strict conditions which the text must meet (even if publishers and bookshops admit exceptions from time [ix] to time). Travel books are characterized by a very specific relationship between author, reader and visited place. The authors are most likely to be professional writers who travel at least partly in order to write about it: 'adventure' is the key word here, conjuring up a journey planned to be interesting. They typically have no strong link (such as work or family) with the place and do not stay long; their next book will usually be about somewhere else entirely. And the work is aimed at readers who are presumed to be sedentary and ignorant about the destination concerned.

Few, if any, of the selections which appear in this book fully conform to such a model. And yet they are all representations of journeys in one way or another, remarking on an encounter with a culture that is not (or not quite) the author's 'own'. To call them 'travel writings' is perhaps a little provocative - particularly in the case of slave narratives which, some will argue, fit uncomfortably in such a category. But perhaps the conventional definition is too closely tied to the image of a particular kind of travel: it neglects others, or at least forgets that other kinds of travel also find their way into print. Although many of the texts represented here may attract attention - and be profitably read - because they belong to some other category (the oeuvre of a famous author, a related genre such as reportage or autobiography or autobiographical fiction), they will also benefit from being read as travel writing, even if it means stretching the concept a little. Grouping them together like this makes it possible to identify certain continuities that might otherwise go unremarked.


'Black Atlantic', the term which marks out the historical and geographical parameters of this anthology and the series in which it appears, was coined, or at least put into general circulation, by Paul Gilroy in his 1993 book of the same name.2 To some extent, 'Black Atlantic' is simply a slogan, a call for a strategic alignment in the study of Black history. It challenges the common tendency to comprehend it in terms of a single trajectory that runs back to pre-colonial Africa (the pull of the ancient homeland, if you like) and forwards to North America (the promise - however distant - of full participation in modernity). The Atlantic - precisely because it lies between these points of anchorage - offers an alternative model. It encourages us to think of the diaspora not as a river, gathering its tributaries in a relentless voyage to a final destination, but as a vast ocean that touches many shores - Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, the Americas (North, Central and South) - criss-crossed in all directions by people, goods and ideas.

This serves to remind us how varied and extensive the diaspora has become. As Langston Hughes remarked, 'I have learned that there is at least one Negro everywhere'3 - even in Turkmenistan, which prompted his observation, or the far north of Norway as Caryl Philips was surprised to discover several decades later (pp. 154-5). Even the least-travelled inhabitant of the remotest village is now touched by transcontinental formal and informal networks - of information, cultural borrowing, mutual aid, emotional solidarity, political collaboration. The Black Atlantic includes, for example, the anti-slavery movements, the various initiatives embraced by the term 'pan-Africanism', syncretic cultural formations [x] such as vodun, cricket or jazz; and the travelling, mailing, and phoning that keep the members of extended diasporic families in touch with each other.

At bottom, such interconnections rely on modern communication and transport networks: the pages that follow are predictably rich in references to ships, planes, buses, taxes, docks, airports, railway stations, post-offices, cabins, hotels, luggage, maps,timetables and guidebooks. Although the development of these networks on an intercontinental scale was prompted by the imperial expansion of the nineteenth century, they were never simply an instrument of colonial domination; they embody the promise of a global community. In some formulations, Gilroy's 'Black Atlantic' is cohesive enough to be described as a transnational 'counterculture of modernity', whose leading intellectuals move from one country to another with relative ease and whose rhetoric is appropriately cosmopolitan.

But first and foremost, the 'Black Atlantic' is simply a collective noun embracing the intercontinental movements of Black Africans and their descendants since the late eighteenth century. Historically, of course, the diaspora goes much further back than this. But it was not until the emergence of the anti-slavery movement in Europe and the Americas, and the development of new forms of trading relationships with Africa, that one can speak of a class of Black intellectuals (abolitionists, missionaries, merchants) sufficiently organized to form transatlantic networks of their own. The same processes created markets which enabled accounts of travels they themselves wrote to be published.

Even though Black populations are concentrated in, and travel between, the continents which border the Atlantic, there is - as one critic has recently suggested - a 'Black Pacific' too.4 This anthology has not interpreted the term so literally, and, since it has not been assembled with the intention of documenting the existence of a single coherent entity, has been happy to include accounts of journeys that begin or end elsewhere. Australia, Japan and India all appear unapologetically in the index.


The main title of this book has been taken from a poem by Fred D'Aguiar (p.280). The phrase 'home is always elsewhere' conveys the attitude of a British immigration official who does not recognize the narrator's unequivocal right to enter the country he was born in. In the context of the poem it has a negative tone, but detached from it, the expression, I hope, captures the sense of permanent displacement and bi-nationality found in many of the writings selected for this volume in a way that does not prejudge its character. Displacement, whether enforced or not, can be a cause for mourning or celebration, neither or both. For different authors respond to it in many different ways.

Diasporic travels are perhaps most characteristically those one-way journeys which lead to extended stays or even permanent settlement. For migrants and exiles, then, there is 'home' and there is 'back home'.5 But even those with a return ticket, like the conventional travel writer, sometimes have reason, or are expected to at least consider not going back, as Albert Luthuli found during a lecture tour of the United States (p. 197).6 In any case it is rarely simply 'adventure' they come looking for: the overseas voyages of Black Atlantic travellers are more likely [xi] to be undertaken on behalf of a cause (abolitionism, anti-lynching, the defence of Republican Spain) or to earn a living (as a member of one of those peripatetic professions - missionary, musician, sportsman, soldier, sailor) or to visit relatives (the parents or grandparents who have stayed at home).

Whether this sense of displacement could serve as the differentiating mark of the travels of the Black Atlantic, however, is doubtful. For one thing, even on the basis of the small sample offered by the extracts reprinted here, one could hardly claim that is is an essential feature, underlying evey one of such a diverse range of cultural experiences. Some writers feel it quite keenly, others don't register it at all. The 'Black Atlantic' does not possess an institutional structure formal enough to enable one to speak of a set of rules or principles to which 'its' practices must conform. And for another, bi- or tri- or even supra-national identity is hardly a uniquely Black phenomenon. A comparable anthology of travel writers of the Chinese - or Jewish, Indian, Palestinian, Irish - diaspora would doubtless reveal certain continuities with this collection, suggesting that any common motifs discernible in the work of Black travel writers may well be more widely shared.

Indeed, some critics may claim that we are all somehow 'always elsewhere' nowadays. It has become something of a postmodernist cliché to assert that some travelling figure such as the migrant or the tourist is simply a more visible, dramatic embodiment of a universal condition. To some extent, the idea that everyone is a migrant is a useful one: it breaks down the invidious distinction between 'native' and 'foreigner' which underpins a common type of racism. But it becomes unhelpful when it turns into the supposition of a generalized 'nomadism' where distinctions between different forms of displacement are lost - where refugees, conscripts, au pairs, holiday-makers, diplomats and visiting lecturers are grouped together and set on the same footing.7

More difficult, but essential, is the need to be alert to certain similarities without losing sight of the differences. John Western, in his oral history of Barbadian Londoners, writes that his own migratory experiences as a white Englishman now living in the United States have helped him understand some aspects of the lives of those he interviewed, even though in most cases their reasons for travelling, their social status, their complex sense of 'home', are rather at odds with his own.8


This anthology has not been assembled with the intention of making a claim for the special distinctiveness of travel writing by Black authors. While the concept of the 'Black Atlantic' helps to de-centre the diaspora and encourages a move away from a reliance on simple over-arching narratives on which its study has long been dependent, it is less useful when used to promulgate a new general theory - in fact it reproduces the same kind of problem it was designed to overcome.9

The case for collecting these texts in one volume must be made on more strategic grounds. In some respects the book forms part of the broader project of 'decolonizing' or 'democratizing' travel literature which has begun to take shape in the last decade or so. Following a pattern already established - in the world of prose fiction, poetry and drama - critics, editors and publishers have been [xii] challenging the way the canon og 'great works' of travel writing has tended to automatically privilege white men, and in response they have endeavoured to assert the rights, to to speak, of the unrepresented. Reissues, new critical editions and, of course, anthologies, have played an important role in this enterprise. It has led to an increased awareness of women travel writers, for instance, and now there is a sizeable body of critical work devoted to the question of 'gender and travel writing'.10 A recent collection of writings by disabled travellers may herald renewed interest in this area too.11

However, these initiatives, with few exceptions, have focused almost exclusively on white authors. If anthologies of 'travel literature' ignore women and Black men, anthologies of 'women's travel literature' ignore Black women. Unfortunately it seems that - if only in the immediate short-term - Black travel writers will not be more widely known unless they are explicitly and primarily identified as such, even though this runs the risk - as, in a similar way, do those anthologies organized around the sex of the author - of seeming to make essential claims about 'race'.

This anthology is an attempt to redress the balance. In some ways it departs from, or challenges, more conventional definitions of travel writing - in which the works of relatively privileged Europeans and North Americans are taken as the norm. But those expecting the extracts which follow to offer something completely different will be disappointed. In grouping together writings whose only common factor is the fact that their authors are Black, this anthology - unlike those organized around a single subject or theme or point of view - is founded on the principle of divergence rather than convergence. It aims to present as wide a range of writings as possible - in terms of both the travelling experience itself (motive, means of transport, destination) and the modes of representation used to convey that experience. The point is not, of course, to demonstrate that 'race' is a meaningless category without effects, but that it would be rash to specify those effects in advance.

I have borne in mind that the extracts should afford plenty of scope to those accustomed to analysing literary or anthropological texts - from their choice of tense or person to their pace and order (or disorder) of exposition. The extracts are complete in themselves, or at least relatively self-contained sections or chapters from larger works. I have given preference to those which convey a strong sense of place, and which therefore include fairly detailed descriptions or lively dialogue.

They should also provide useful primary sources for those coming to the book from a more sociological orientation. The 1990s have seen an outpouring of books with titles or chapters which juggle permutations of words like migration, borders, displacement, nation, location, local, global, diaspora, post-colonial, geography and map. Yet their authors tend to illustrate their arguments with reference to literary fiction rather than travel writing.12 By including first-person accounts of a wide range of travels, perhaps this anthology will show that there is a wealth of non-fiction rich enough to serve these purposes too.

But above all, the anthology offers the more immediate pleasures - not always comfortable - of recognition and surprise, of fantasy and instruction, that characterize those writings which best evoke the shock of encountering new people and places which travel over long distances usually provokes. [xiii]


If it is not possible - nor perhaps even desirable - to specify the essential, defining characteristics of travel writings of the Black Atlantic, it may nevertheless be helpful to identify some issues which are inevitably raised by this volume and suggest further avenues for research and analysis.

The Right to Travel

If the the modern world is, as they say, getting smaller, and we are entering an age of globalization, the nation-state continues to play a decisive role. Although it is true that ideas travel more widely than before (and nations are increasingly culturally diverse), the infrastructural networks which they use depend on agreements (on anything from copyright to standards of measurement) between states, which in turn ensure that they can be and are adhered to within the territories they govern. When we turn to the movement of people, the role of the state is much more obvious. Even in a collection of travel writings, the obstacles put in the way of most travellers of the Black Atlantic are amply documented: the difficulty in obtaining passports, visas and permits; the harassment at national frontiers, being turned away; expulsion. And wherever the rules followed by Western states in regulating the movement of people across their borders are racially discriminatory, those people of colour who live and work in a country quite legitimately will always be potentially illegal aliens in the eyes of the public authorities.13

Dramas of obtaining visas and crossing frontiers are a regular source of light narrative diversion in much travel writing of the modern period, but for many travellers represented in this book, they often acquire a rather more ominous aspect. If the Black Atlantic began with the traumas of the enforced movement of people, it has become a domain in which even the most mundane forms of travel can become exceedingly difficult.

To some extent, these barriers exist at the level of cultural expectations. In a recent anthology, one writer suggests that the very idea that Black people might actually travel for the sake of it is hard for some to accept: 'Are you visiting relatives?' 'Do you work here?'14 But then, as a contributor to the same collection half-answers, 'former sharecroppers do not teach their children to travel for pleasure.'15 And even if they learn some other way, their options still appear to be restricted, as a third author discovered when her travel piece was turned down by her editor. 'With pity in his voice he blurted, "Black people don't go to Iceland".'16

But it is the more tangible obstructions put in the way by the state that grab the attention. Some travellers tell of the difficulty in obtaining passports because of a lack of documentation of date and place of birth that would satisfy the authorities.17 The Angolan Eva Carvalho de Chipenda explains that she has to go to Portugal to get her passport before she can take up her scholarship to study in Brazil (p.68).

Passports are sometimes denied altogether, making foreign travel impossible without paying a heavy penalty. Notoriously, Black South Africans found in the 1960s that the only way they could leave the country was with an 'exit visa' which rendered them stateless.18 American volunteers hoping to join the International Brigade in 1937 found their passports stamped 'Not Valid for Spain' and had to [xiv] enter the country secretly from France.19 Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard Wright are simply the best-known of many African Americans whose right to travel was withheld by the State Department. The actions of British and US authorities prevented some delegates from attending the Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919.20 The British refused a passport for Marcus Garvey to visit West Africa in 1923; and he was later expelled from the United States. In 1930 Claude McKay was barred from entering British territory (including his native Jamaica).21 Similarly Miriam Makeba found she could not return to South Africa when she tried to arrange a flight back from New York.22

Immigration restrictions of course have impeded the free movement of people, including relatives and spouses. Nicolás Guillén mentions that on one visit to New York he never got further than Ellis Island (p. 118). C. L. R. James, on the other hand, overstayed his welcome and, despite his marriage to an American, was deported in 1953, as was Sidney Bechet from Britain in 1920 (pp. 171-2). Caryl Phillips writes of his less than warm welcome at Oslo's airport (pp. 152-3), and D'Aguiar of his at London Heathrow (p. 280)

What a Difference a Border Makes

Once these obstacles are overcome, travellers of the Black Atlantic frequently observe 'what a difference a border makes'.23 Again, this is something of a commonplace. Claude Lévi-Strauss remarked that 'not only does a journey transport us over enormous distances, it also causes us to move a few degrees up or down in the social scale.'24 He notes for instance, how, in Brazil, 'from being poor I had become rich'; while, arriving in New York after the Armistice, the reverse was true. But there are some extra considerations here that the French anthropologist does not contemplate. Consider Langston Hughes:
In El Paso it was strange to find that just by stepping across an invisible line into Mexico, a Negro could buy a beer in any bar, sit anywhere in the movies, or eat in any restaurant, so suddenly did Jim Crow disappear, an Americans visiting Juarez, who would not drink beside a Negro in Texas, did so in Mexico. Funny people, Southerners.25
In the pages that follow, there are numerous examples of foreign travel offering a (temporary) respite from racism, particularly on the part of African Americans in Europe - a theme which echoes from accounts of the Black abolitionists in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, through to the observations made by late twentieth-century tourists. Through there are also those who argue that this is something of a mirage, travel abroad nevertheless can be instructive, shattering preconceptions of race: a common image is the shock of encountering white manual workers in the 'mother' country (pp. 66-7, 69); another source of enlightenment is the journey from a colony to a now-independent country, as Chipenda is inspired to meet more self-confident Black women in Brazil (pp70-1).

Crossing borders involves not only a change of social status, but often a change of colour too. As different countries have different systems of racial classification, [xv] one may be 'Black' in one country and not in another. This explains why the American Robert Campbell writes of the West Africans he meets that 'they at first regarded me as a white man, until I informed them of my connection with the Negro.'26 And why the narrator of An African Savage's Own Story is puzzled to encounter 'a coloured man' in Philadelphia, 'who, incidentally, was not black, but white. How could they call him coloured? What a mix-up!' (p. 175).27 It is in the contrast between the Manichean either/or of the United States and the complex gradations and tensions between colour and class in the Caribbean that this comes across most vividly. For Belmira Nunes Lopes, daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants who grew up in New England and who spent six years in Puerto Rico - where they 'don't use the same standard for whiteness' - this prompts extended reflections on the constructedness of 'race' in her autobiography, implying that colour is - for some people at least (and the author is assumed by her friends to be one of them) - a matter of choice.28

Small Worlds

Centred on a protagonist-narrator who rarely stays in one place for long, the conventional travel book tends to assume an irreconcilable gulf between a mobile, singular author and static, plural 'natives'. The overwhelming emphasis is on the unique experiences of the individual traveller, who is the subject rather than object of knowledge - the visitor asking questions to which the host provides answers; rarely, except for comic effect, the other way around.

For many of the travellers represented in this book, this is not the case. Wherever they may go, they are constantly bumping into people who are as well travelled as they are. Of course, the travels are not always comparable. The encounters may give rise to the kind of heavy irony of a scene in Claude McKay's autobiography where he stands before a judge in Pennsylvania who, when he hears where the prisoner is from comments:
'Nice place. I was there a couple of seasons ago.' And, ignoring my case and the audience, the judge began telling me of his trip to Jamaica and how he enjoyed it, the climate, the landscape, and the natives. He mentioned some of the beauty spots and I named those I knew. 'I wish I were there instead of here,' he said. 'I wish I were there too,' I echoed him. I could quite understand how he felt, for who would not like to escape from a winter in steely, smoky, stonefaced Pittsburgh!29
And in an echo of McKay, Jamaica Kincaid invokes a similar contrast between the journey which takes a young West Indian to work as a nanny in a North American city and the Caribbean vacations of her employers and their friends: 'somehow it made me ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was "I had fun when I was there".'30

Black travellers are often the object of curiosity in ways that whites are not. Even in the proverbial jungles, mountains and deserts beloved of the conventional travel author, the Europeans are hardly unknown; if their writings are anything to go by, it is their 'magic' technology that attracts attention rather than themselves. It would be difficult to find a parallel to C. L. R. James's description of the glances [xvi] cast his way on the London Underround (p. 113-14) in an Englishman's description of the West Indies. And doubtful if there is anything quite matching up to the 'entrance' of the Togolese, Tété-Michel Kpomassie, onto the quayside in Greenland (p. 138) in the classics of polar exploration.

Their accounts frequently exhibit a sense of racial solidarity which is usually unmarked in travel writing by white authors whose search for an Other is, if anything, threatened by the appearance of someone who looks the Same. Dismissive remarks about fellow-tourists are few and far between. On the other hand, there are numerous examples of diasporic rendezvous: visitors to New York often gravitate to Harlem; members of the expatriate community of African Americans in Ghana feature in each other's writings; Black supporters of the Republican cause find their paths crossing in the Spanish Civil War.

Sometimes the encounters have a 'small world' flavour. Guillén bumps into an old Cuban acquaintance in Harlem (pp. 120-1); Lewis Nkosi recognizes a member of the Pan-Africanist Congress in Paris (p. 82); and in Berlin, Mary Church Terrell is surprised to meet an old friend, the violinist Will Marion Cook (p. 43). On other occasions, the expected fellowship of colour may turn out to be illusory - as in Caryl Phillips's unexpected encounter with a Trinidadian woman and an Eritrean 'brother' in Norway (pp. 154-5). This is so even, or perhaps especially, in the case of those travels to Africa undertaken by those for whom the ancestral bond has become almost meaningless. 'I had understood nothing,' writes Richard Wright about an experience in Accra. 'I was black and they were black, but my blackness did not help me' (p.232).

Divided Loyalties

Finally, the questions of 'home' and of national identity. As Virginia Woolf famously said, 'as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.'31 It is tempting to argue that patriotism is similarly weak across the Black Atlantic. On the high seas, also in the turbulent late 1930s, Hugh Mulzac comes to the realization that 'my allegiance did not lie with states, kings, or national boundaries but with people' (p.183).

Certainly he had little reason to be grateful to the United Staes, where his colour meant it was impossible for him to get a job that matched his qualifications and experience. But if this is cosmopolitanism, it is perhaps more apparent than real. Proclaiming a disregard for national schemes is a luxury generally afforded ony by those who have never found their right to travel or return home in question. To generalize it across the Black Atlantic would only confirm the suspicions of the American Secret Service agent who tests the loyalty of Addie Hunton and Kathryn Johnson working alongside US troops in World War I. The women pass the test with flying colours. It is true that they rather regret missing 'so splendid an opportunity to share with him certain truths about colored folk at home that he probably had not learned' (pp. 162-3). But this hardly leads them to question their 'longing to serve ' those 'virile lads with soul and body steeled for the hour' (pp. 161-6).

Behind the celebration of 'nomadic' identities often lurks a rather patronizing, even contemptuous, attitude towards those 'still' in the grip of nationalist loyalties - replacing the assertion of the superiority of one country over another with a similar assertion of the superiority of cosmopolitans over nationalists. Yet such an attitude [xvii] is not very helpful for someone fighting a deportation order. It becomes useless when confronted with a real danger such as the threat of foreign invasion of the intensification of colonial rule: sides must be chosen. Fascism was defeated not by deraciné intellectuals but by modern states imposing huge sacrifices on the part of the civilian population. And for all their extended statys in Paris, London and New York, many Black Atlantic exiles returned to play a major part in national liberation movements in Africa and the Caribbean.

There is rarely an unambiguous declaration of allegiance to a single country in this book. But rare too is the romance of world citizenship. More common is a bi- (or perhaps tri-) national identity in which the disappointments of one and the compensations of another coexist, often in creative tension. Writing of her second trip to Europe in 1902, the American Mary Church Terrell declares that:
Goethe says that everybody was born and reared to have a fatherland and a motherland. The country in which I was born and reared and lived is my fatherland, of course, and I love it genuinely, but my motherland is dear, broadminded France in which people with dark complexions are not discriminated against in account of color.32
'Home' rarely features in conventional travel writing, for its certainties (safe but boring) can usually be taken for granted. For many authors represented in this collection, it is not always clear where 'home' is. And for that reason it is the subject of a much wider range of emotions - nostalgia, indifference, exasperation, perplexity, embarrassment. In any case, the expected contrast between the familiarity of home and the strangeness of abroad that underpins so much travel literature is often absent.


A word or two about some of the rules of inclusion and exclusion adopted in compiling this anthology, though they have not been adhered to blindly and do admit a few exceptions. Firstly, it is restricted to accounts of journeys between continents - requiring travel by sea or air. It does not, therefore, include narratives of travels from the Southern states of the USA to the north, for instance, or from one part of Africa to another.

Secondly, the extracts are mostly first-person accounts. There are many travels of the Black Atlantic we know about only indirectly - in biographies, reports in newspapers, fleeting references in historical works. Consider, for instance, the case of John Glasgow, a West Indian sailor who set up a farm near Liverpool with his English wife, but when he went back to sea, found himself in 1828 in a Savannah jail and because the captain of his ship refused to pay for his release he was sold at the auction block and ended up on a Georgia plantation.33 Or that of Nigerian student Robert Nbaraonje, who stowed away in the coal bunker of an England-bound steamer at Freetown in order to get to England and join the RAF.34 Because neither left an account of his experiences, they could not be represented here.

But I have not applied this rule too strictly. Not all the accounts included are 'direct': apart from the obvious case of translation, there are as-told-to narratives, [xviii] texts which bear the obvious (and sometimes unwarranted) intrusion of editors, and the invisible revisions that often take place in the publication of oral histories. There are several extracts of a self-evidently literary character (fiction, poetry, drama) - the speaking voice here may be deemed to be autobiographical to a greater or lesser extent - but they are included here because they re-create diasporic experiences poorly represented in non-fictional narratives.

The third limitation is the availability of writings in the English language. While translations from the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén were made specially for this volume, for the most part I had to rely on material already published. As the translation priorities of publishers are heavily geared towards fiction, most travel accounts in French, and especially in Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, are as yet inaccessible to English-speaking readers. A few of these works are mentioned in the Suggestions for Further Reading at the end of this book.

Finally, the selection tends to favour writings which are out of print (either in the United States or the United Kingdom) over those by authors well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. In general, I have avoided including texts which have appeared in other recent anthologies that overlap at certain points with this one. The chief exceptions are the narratives of the Middle Passage excerpted in Part One - but since the experience forms a major point of reference in accounts of later journeys of migrants, exiles and conscripts (for example, that of Donald Hinds: pp. 57-67) they provide a crucial resource for any study of Black travel writing.


The material in this book is organized into six sections, which are defined not so much geographically or historically, but rather according to a combination of the perspective and subject matter of each text. In most cases, this is a question of emphasis only, as the extracts are too internally complex to fit comfortably into one section or another, especially as they often contain accounts of the travel experiences of people the authors meet as well as those of the authors themselves.

It opens with 'Middle Passages', which includes accounts of enslavement in Africa, the terrifying voyage across the Atlantic and landing on American soil. The sheet problems these texts face in representing such a traumatic experience have led more recent authors to try to capture it more imaginatively, and examples of their approaches are included too.35.

As a reminder of the importance of Old Testament frames of reference in Black Atlantic cultures, Part Two is entitled 'Stranger in a Strange Land' (Exodus 3:22). This includes writings born of major upheavals such as migration and exile. The extracts convey the sense of displacement experienced by, for instance, passengers on sea voyages or new arrivals in a foreign city - where the tension between 'home' and 'abroad' is perhaps at its most acute.

In Part Three the emphasis is on the description of places and encounters with others, rather than on the more subjective registers foregrounded in Parts Two and Four. The reason for travelling is less prominent here, and the selection includes the work of exiles as well as of more casual travellers, but perhaps the most typical author here is the one who undertakes a voyage in order to write about it. I have called this part 'Ethnography in Reverse', an expression used [xix] by the Cameroonian anthropologist Massaër Diallo to describe his research into the white clients of African marabouts in Paris - though it also carries echoes of Louise Bennett's famous poem about Caribbean migration to Britain, 'Colonization in Reverse'.36

'Tours of Duty' provides a few examples of the short-stay visits undertaken by Black Atlantic travellers - for business more often than for pleasure. The writers here focus on the professional activity which provides the reason for travel - their work as entertainers, delegates, sailors, or on wartime service.

Writings about 'Africa', however, are included in a section of their own. Visits to the continent have assumed a special importance in diasporic Black culture, particularly in the United States. The aim here has been to suggest the range of reasons which have prompted different authors to visit the 'motherland' and of their responses to the encounter.

Finally, Part Six, 'Home', features narratives in which the idea of 'home' plays an important role. They are not all accounts of return journeys - to the land of one's birth or residence or that of one's parents or grandparents - but in each case, where 'home' is - and how easy it is to go there - turns out to be the cause of some confusion or misunderstanding.


1. Kristina Woolnough, 'Is Travel Writing Just One Long Holiday?', Scotland on Sunday, 18 August 1991.

2. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993).

3. Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey [1956] (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 104.

4. George Lipsitz, '"Frantic to Join ... the Japanese Army": The Asia Pacific War in the Lives of African American Soldiers and Civilians' in Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd (eds), The Politics of Culture in the Shadows of Capital (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 327.

5. Sindamani Bridglal, 'She Lives Between Back Home and Home' in Rhonda Cobham and Merle Collins (eds), Watchers and Seekers: Creative Writing by Black Women in Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 88.

6. See also Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom [1855] (New York: Dover, 1969), 376; Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World [1940] (New York: G K Hall, 1996), 98-9; Marian Anderson, My Lord, What a Morning! (London: Cresset Press, 1957), 127.

7. See Winifred Woodhull, Transfigurations of the Maghreb: Feminism, Decolonization, and Literatures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 88-102.

8. John Western, Passage to England: Barbadian Londoners Speak of Home (London: UCL Press,1992), 1-26.

9. See Alasdair Pettinger, 'Ships at a Distance', New Formations 23 (Summer 1994), 115-21; Alasdair Pettinger, 'Enduring Fortresses', Research in African Literatures, Vol 29 No 4 (1998), 142-7.

10. See for instance, Jane Robinson, Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Jane Robinson (ed), Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Mary Morris (ed), The Virago Book of Women Travellers (London: Virago, 1994); Sara Mills, Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1991); Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the Woman in the Colonial Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (London: Verso, 1992).

11. Alison Walsh (ed), Nothing Ventured: Disabled People Travel the World (Bromley: Harrap Columbus, 1991).

12. Among those which I have found particularly interesting are: Angelika Bammer, Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); Tim Brennan, At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti (eds), The Post-Colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons (London: Routledge, 1995); James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Rosemary Marangoly George, The Politics of Home: Postcolonial Relocations and Twentieth-Century Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Simon Gikandi, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); and Russell King, John Connell and Paul White (eds), Writing Across Worlds: Literature and Migration (London: Routledge, 1995).

13. Andrew Barry, 'Lines of Communication and Spaces of Rule' in Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne and Nikolas Rose (eds), Foucault and Political Reason (London: UCL Press, 1996), 123-41; Paul Hirst and Graeme Thompson, 'Globalization, Governance and the Nation State' in Globalization in Question (Cambridge: Polity 1996), 170-94; Julian Clarke, 'National Exclusions' in Alrick Cambridge and Stephan Feuchtwang (eds), Where You Belong: Government and Black Culture (Aldershot: Avebury, 1992), 14-32.

14. Dorothy Lazard, 'Finding Myself in the World' in Elaine Lee (ed), Go Girl! (Portland, OR: Eighth Mountain, 1997), 223; see also Tété-Michel Kpomassie, An African in Greenland, translated by James Kirkup (London: Secker and Warbug, 1983), 54.

15. Lydia A Nayo, 'A Sharecropper's Daughter Goes to Paris' in Elaine Lee (ed), Go Girl! (Portland, OR: Eighth Mountain, 1997), 232.

16. Tonya Bolden, 'In the Land Up Over' in Elaine Lee (ed), Go Girl! (Portland, OR: Eighth Mountain, 1997), 312.

17. See e.g. James Yates, Mississippi to Madrid: A Memoir of a Black American in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Seattle: Open Hand, 1989): 15, 98-101; George S Schuyler, Black and Conservative: The Autobiography of George S. Schuyler (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1966), 175.

18. See e.g. Nat Nakasa, The World of Nat Nakasa: Selected Writings, ed. Essop Patel, 2nd edition (Johannesburg: Raven Press, 1995), 167-71; Lewis Nkosi, Home and Exile and Other Selections, new edition (London: Longman, 1983), vii-viii.

19. See Robin G Kelley, 'This Ain't Ethiopia, But It'll Do' in Danny Duncan Collum (ed), 'This Ain't Ethiopia, But It'll Do': African Americans in the Spanish Civil War (New York: G K Hall, 1992), 25; Langston Hughes, 'Negroes in Spain' in Ibid, 108.

20. Immanuel Geiss, The Pan-African Movement (London: Methuen, 1974), 237.

21. J A Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa 1900-1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 97; Wayne Cooper and Robert Reinders, 'Claude McKay in England, 1920', Race, Vol 9 No 1 (July 1967), 75.

22. Miriam Makeba, Makeba: My Story (London: Bloomsbury, 1988), 98.

23. Langston Hughes, I Wander As I Wonder, op. cit., 399.

24. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [1955], translated by John and Doreen Weightman (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 104-5.

25. Langston Hughes, I Wander As I Wonder, op. cit., 63.

26. Howard Bell (ed), Search for a Place: Black Separatism and Africa, 1860 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969), 171.

27. See also Langston Hughes, The Big Sea [1940] (London: Pluto Press, 1986), 11.

28. Maria Luisa Nunes, A Portuguese Colonial in America, Belmira Nunes Lopes: The Autobiography of a Cape Verdean American (Pittsburgh: Latin American Review Press, 1982), 121-9.

29. Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home [1937] (London: Pluto Press, 1995), 8.

30. Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy (London: Picador, 1994), 65.

31. Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas [1937] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 125.

32. Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World op.cit., 209.

33. John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, now in England, ed. L. A. Chamerovzow (London: 1855), 228-33.

34. Roger Lambo, 'Achtung! The Black Prince: West Africans in the Royal Air Force, 1939-46' in David Killingray (ed), Africans in Britain (London: Frank Cass, 1994), 133.

35. Others include David Dabydeen, Turner: New and Selected Poems (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994); Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (London: Picador, 1991).

36. Blaise N'Djehoya and Massaër Diallo, Un regard noir (Paris: Autrement, 1984), 125-30; Louise Bennett, Jamaica Labrish (Kingston: Sangster's, 1966), 179-80.

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