In her now-canonical “Venus in Two Acts,” Saidiya Hartman expresses her frustration with archives and how their absences fuel her desire to “write a romance that exceeded the fictions of history.” The reviews which follow in this special section swim in these waters. They catalog writers and thinkers of many genres whose works push (past) the many fictions underlying even the most entrenched histories. Across poetry, memoir, and critique of visual, performance, and other arts, the writers assembled in this section add their names and experiences to the still-expanding registers of expression. We are pleased to introduce the reviewers who engage their work with the knowledge that—like in all archives—each citation bolsters the voices of both the citer and the source.

This special section begins with Roger Reeves’s collection of poetry entitled Best Barbarian. Hovering in a liminal space between past, present, life, and death, Best Barbarian contains, as Paige Welsh describes in her vibrant account of the collection, “a rhizome of interpretation” that gives Blackness a voice within the traditional Western canon and uses that voice to sound a challenge to established convention. Simultaneously, Ekow Eshun’s In the Black Fantastic compiles the work of artists from the African diaspora and invites us to imagine “a new way of seeing.” Andrea L. Richardson’s dynamic review guides us through the works of speculative fiction compiled by Eshun and the scholarly essays attached to them, placing this collection in the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison.

Both Ryan James Kernan and Tina Post cast their gaze back into the history of Black artists and their performances. In New World Maker, Kernan examines the politics and poetic translations of Langston Hughes to argue, as Alexandra Keith’s insightful review describes, that “discourses on race are fungible, but not untranslatable.” Using Hughes as a case study, Kernan shows how different linguistic and historical contexts reveal that Blackness is not a monolith, but rather a collection of communities. Tina Post’s Deadpan, here reviewed by Olayombo Raji-Oyelade, gives a historical account of the “internalized inexpression of blackness.” Post explores the tension between this inexpression and the racialized stereotype of excessive emotion through historical photographs, performances, and the public personas of Black celebrities in the twentieth century.

Ilka Saal’s Collusions of Fact and Fiction utilizes the works of Suzan-Lori Parks and Kara Walker to put forth the concept of “historiopoesis,” which is “the making (poeisis) of history through poetic/formal means.” In his review of Saal’s theoretical framework, I. B. Hopkins compellingly places “historiopoesis” in conversation with concepts such as “fake news,” offering it as an “antidote.” The fusion of creative works and historical experience energizes the progression of this special section and recasts the ways in which we may think of expressive performances creating and informing the historical record. In Holly Genovese’s account of Tina Campt’s A Black Gaze, the visual dimension of still more narrative artistic modes receives a fresh examination. Genovese notes that Campt holds poets, photographers, filmmakers, and other artists in consideration with her own personal, “haptic” encounters with their works. 

The complex negotiation of non-identical audiences also fuels David M. Higgin’s study of science fiction narratives in Reverse Colonization. Giulia A. Oprea’s incisive review pinpoints the liberatory possibilities available to some interpretive communities while also demonstrating “science fiction’s complicity in imperial fantasy” for certain conservative reactionaries who have used the rhetoric of scifi to express imagined oppression. Scifi further illuminates Domino Renee Perez’s innovative composite of memoir, film criticism, and literary studies, as Jack Murphy explains. At the edges of nations, genres, and scholarly identity, Fatherhood in the Borderlands slows down with demands of productivity to linger with the values on which our intellectual interests are first founded.  Haneul Lee’s reading of Chuyun Oh’s monograph on K-Pop Dance and its prodigious global fan culture finds similar frustrations in the industrialization of expressive culture. While, as Lee writes, K-Pop dance   “unsettles the boundary of reality and fantasy, professionalism and amateurism, and differences in race, ethnicity, gender, and languages,” the beneficiaries of dancers’ labor are often occluded by user-friendly, black-box digital interfaces. For the interdisciplinary writers of Design to Live, design as an ethical imperative anchors a host of reflections on personhood and communities of responsibility in a Syrian refugee camp. Interpreting field notes, sketches, educational protocols, social infrastructure, poetry, and other technologies of survival, Liz Bender compellingly reviews the broad appeal of this text’s various strategies for self-narrativization and its implications for addressing the many kinds of “humanitarian design gaps.” Bender’s special attention to the look and feel of this book itself fittingly registers the persistence and alchemy involved in converting a story into a book.