Afro-Atlantic Flight


Since the Middle Passage, Black Americans have perpetually migrated on local and global scales to escape social alienation, dispossession, and certain death. Grounded in ethnographic, historical, literary, and filmic analyses, Afro-Atlantic Flight is a study of Black American cultural producers, travelers, and historical preservationists who elect to journey toward imagined “Africas” in the post-1965 moment to satiate their longings for freedom and origins through their works as well as in their roots tourism in and actual permanent migrations throughout the Afro-Atlantic, particularly in Ghana, Northeast Brazil, and the U.S. South. Along the coastlines of these sites sit physical remnants of major embarkation points from which human cargo were distributed during the slavetrade. These artifacts, coupled with myriad other vestiges and cultural elements throughout each region, have become prominent attractions, drawing thousands of Black American travelers each year. This book offers significant reflections on Black American “flight” concerning the location of Africa, the possibilities for diasporan return, and the significance of refiguring and democratizing master narratives about slavery. It argues for the taking up of speculation not only as a liberating modality through which an individual can truly live otherwise, but also as a radical tool of analysis to properly address the contemporary resonances of slavery that exist across the Afro-Atlantic.

Read the introduction to Afro-Atlantic Flight here:

Praise for Afro-Atlantic Flight in published reviews:

Afro-Atlantic Flight is instructive and deserves a spot among the growing wave of Black geographies literature.” — Bradley Hinger, Antipode

“Commander has written a book that offers hope and optimism to Black Americans by reclaiming old wounds that surface in the contemporary moment with an alarming regularity, violent maliciousness, and/or callous indifference. With little doubt, she has made important methodological, theoretical, and political contributions to the disciplines of literary studies, American studies, performance studies, diaspora studies, cultural anthropology, and geography.” — R. Scott Carey, Journal of Critical Race Inquiry

“Wide-ranging and dynamic. Afro-Atlantic Flight makes a valuable contribution to a number of fields that take up subjects such as the contemporary politics of black American belonging, travel, and speculative narrative traditions in black expressive culture.” — Stacie Selmon Mccormick, Studies in the Novel

Afro-Atlantic Flight successfully situates the fantastic and the speculative as longstanding modalities for black survival, resistance, and solidarity. . . . Commander has produced nuanced interdisciplinary work that sustains argument and methodology throughout.” — Daylanne K. English, American Literary History

"Afro-Atlantic Flight has an ambitious premise and methodology, combining cultural studies, participant observation, and semistructured interviews. . . . An innovative aspect of the work is how it thinks beyond Africa as the sole site of cultural authenticity desired by African Americans." — Jocelyn Fenton Stitt, Meridians

"Afro-Atlantic Flight innovatively examines literature and film that thematize returns to Africa alongside nonliterary phenomena. . . . Commander’s nuanced account of how black people deploy imaginings of Africa reclaims the concept of a homeland return as politically fruitful while avoiding the pitfalls of earlier Pan-Africanist movements." — Gabriella Friedman, American Quarterly

"Afro-Atlantic Flight is a provocative and fascinating text that will also invite further study even as it engages and answers its own questions in critical and significant ways." — Susana M. Morris, CLA Journal

“Michelle D. Commander’s tremendously illuminating work will be a seminal study on the psychological, political, and quite literal flights experienced by African Americans and their kin in the post-civil rights United States and postcolonial African Diaspora. Wonderfully executed, creative, and comprehensive, Afro-Atlantic Flight deeply enhances our understanding of how signifiers like heritage, diaspora, and Africa have functioned over the last several decades.” — Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination

Afro-Atlantic Flight enters at a point at which there have been so many critiques of the mythmaking involved in imagining ‘Africa’ that the beauty, the justified yearning, and the revolutionary potential of such imagining have been lost. Michelle D. Commander escapes this trap, countering it with empathy for her objects of analysis, even as she subjects them to a critical gaze. Employing beautiful logic, a powerful argument, and writing that is both graceful and capacious, Commander brings together contemporary currents of thought in new ways to create this truly original piece of scholarship.” — Micol Seigel, author of Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States