African American writing commonly represents New World topography as a set of entrapments, contesting the open horizons, westward expansion, and individual freedom characteristic of the white, Eurocentric literary tradition. Geographies of Flight: Phillis Wheatley to Octavia Butler provides the first comprehensive treatment of the ways in which African American authors across three centuries have confronted the predicament of inhabiting space under conditions of bondage and structural oppression. William Merrill Decker examines how, in testifying to those conditions, fourteen black authors have sought to transform a national cartography that, well into the twenty-first century, reflects white supremacist assumptions. These writers question the spatial dimensions of a mythic American liberty and develop countergeographies in which descendants of the African diaspora lay claim to the America they have materially and culturally created.
Tracking the testimonial voice in a range of literary genres, Geographies of Flight explores themes of placement and mobility in the work of Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler.
“Decker’s Geographies of Flight is an intellectual, philosophical, political, social, cultural, and activist tour de force. A radical and revolutionary blueprint representing a call to scholarly arms in today’s world in which the ‘formidable structures of oppression’ are continuing to exert a dehumanizing stranglehold over US society, his pioneering methodology asks and answers the vitally important question to which we must all be held accountable: ‘How do we hear the descendant voices of those who write from spaces shaped by the African diaspora?’” —Celeste-Marie Bernier, author of Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination
“Ambitious in scope, William Merrill Decker’s Geographies of Flight: Phillis Wheatley to Octavia Butler asks us to reconsider the complex geographies of testimonial personhood in the development of the African American literary tradition over the longue durée. It offers insightful, detailed readings of the most significant autobiographical nonfiction and fiction in the canon.” —Edlie Wong, author of Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship