Annette Joseph-Gabriel, "Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire" (Illinois UP, 2020)

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‘Where were the women?’ was the big question that led Annette Joseph-Gabriel to her new book, Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire (University of Illinois Press, 2020).

This ‘where’ ended up meaning different things as she tracked the lives, ideas, and roles played by Black women during the era of decolonization. The ‘where’ in the final project is sometimes geographic, moving through and across spaces in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, and Africa. It also speaks to spaces of activism and writing, including politics, literature, and private correspondence.

The seven women that Joseph-Gabriel’s book follows—Suzanne Césaire, Paulette Nardal, Eugénie Éboué-Tell, Jane Vialle, Andrée Blouin, Aoua Kéita, and Eslanda Robeson—make up a transnational force and network throughout, illuminating the ways women moved physically, politically, intellectually, and creatively while also showing the places where their worlds and thoughts intersected.

Centering the experiences and stories of Black women as ‘political protagonists,’ the book considers questions of race, gender, and political agency. It also pays close attention the multiplicity of possible futures that these women envisioned and sought to bring about through their anti-colonial activism.

Reimagining Liberation examines closely the citizenship demands and challenges made by these women whose contributions during this transformative period in the history of empire have been relatively neglected. While all of these women led impressive lives, some were connected to very famous men (Aimé Césaire, Félix Eboué, or Paul Robeson, for example) and issues of visibility and legibility in terms of sources and biographies run throughout the book’s chapters.

Reimagining Liberation is a fascinating collection of pathways and ideas that resonates in very particular ways in 2020, a moment of global crisis and protest around issues of racial inequality and violence. It was a true pleasure to speak with Annette about this important work and these issues at such a pivotal time.

Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel is an assistant professor of French at University of Michigan.

Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. She is the author of Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France Between the Wars (2009). Her current research focuses on the history of French nuclear weapons and testing since 1945. Her most recent article, ‘“No Hiroshima in Africa”: The Algerian War and the Question of French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara’ appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of History of the Present. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada and hopes all listeners are keeping healthy and safe at this difficult time in our world. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (panchasi@sfu.ca).

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