(Dis)locating Home: “The Black writer [,] language and mythology.”

One can hear Sterling A. Brown’s, her professor during her time as a graduate student at Howard University, influence in the folk architecture in the end of the conclusion to Sherley Anne Williams’s book Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature. 

In the realm of literature where Black writers are seeking to give concrete forms to Black experience in this country, to posit and describe in all its varied facets the large controlling images that give philosophers meaning to the facts of ordinary life, to express the archetype which in turn reveals hidden attitudes and experiences, the Black writer is making not new gods, but a new language and mythology. And perhaps by providing Black people with another view of their experience, showing the basic relationships between their own heroes and the rest of society, these writers have provided another facet to the prism of Black mythology. (1972, 229)

Sterling A. Brown thematized mythological crossings, searching for home, in his poem, “Crossing” from the collection, No Hiding Place:

This is not Jordan River

There lies not Canaan

There is still

One more wide river to cross.

This is the Mississippi

And the stars tell us only

That this is not the road.

[…]

(1980, 204)

Locating home as spiritual, as mythological, as a quest for a centenary reproof from dispelled appraisals, Brown specialized in telling the reader that they are still on the road, together, passing over rivers that do not lead home yet. Dr. Valerie Prince’s brilliant book, Burnin’ Down the House: Home in African American Literature, positions home as a quest and an endeavor lived through literature as the African American experience. I took three of Dr. Prince’s classes and got to know her as my adviser. She is just as brilliant in person, consistently, as she is in this book. Dr. Prince initiates her discussion, “[t]he search for justice, opportunity, and liberty that characterized the twentieth century for African Americans can be described as a quest for home” (2005, 1). Dr. Prince continues, “A look back upon the century of African American literature shows that home is ubiquitous and nowhere at the same time” (2005, 2). Home is concrete and just as ever for certain as it is out of grasp. The mythmaking of storytelling is in its own creation a search for home, away from the rebelliousness of substandard demands on our time and attention for market gains and ordinary comforts, should we be so fortunate to have the opportunity. Home is where deliverance plays its key role in the arrival of mercy, justice, and a non-calculated attrition of forced locations. 

Toni Morrison’s Home also demonstrates not being at home or truly able to occupy locations of comfort. Cee, having “laughed with wild glee,” being overjoyed by the comfort of a nice bed is warned not to laugh loudly. In a moment that should feel as at least the imitations of the comforts of home, she is told laughing is “frowned on here.” Further, the discussion illustrates the dislocation of home: “Well, remember those daughters I mentioned being away? They’re in a home. They both have great big heads. Cephalitis, I think they call it. Sad for it to happen to even one, but two? Have mercy” (2012, 63). Home is transplanted as a place, the very naming of a place, where one occupies outside the home under the duress of illness where being permanently away is called being at (a) home.

In Toni Morrison’s short essay, “The Foreigner’s Home,” she remarks on the demands of nativism and imaginary borders, stating, “[t]he spectacle of mass movement draws attention inevitably to the borders, the porous places, the vulnerable points where the concept of home is seen as being menaced by foreigners” (2017, 94). The persistent state of the grandiosity of borders and the possessiveness towards lands is the nature flux from a colonial mapping towards the estates of ownership of land, ownership of peoples, ownership over the established natural productivity of individual labor without the rewards of the release from confinement or liberty to build and have a home. On what land does home locate itself and towards what ends does the maps of persuasion of livelihood find rest from the bars of delayed justice?

Brown, Sterling A. The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown. Evanston: TriQuarterly Books, 1999. 

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. 

“” . The Origins of Others. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017. 

Prince, Valerie Sweeney. Burnin’ Down the House: Home in African American Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.


Williams, Sherley Anne. Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature. New York: The Dial Press, 1972.