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Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Politics and Culture in Modern America) Hardcover – February 15, 2018
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
*NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF SPRING 2018 BY PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Set the World on Fire illuminates a dark though important area of history. Deftly written, it is also a signal contribution to African American studies and women's studies. It shines brightening light on a previously--and scandalously--neglected topic." --Gerald Horne, author of Facing the Rising Sun: African Americans, Japan, and the Rise of Afro-Asian Solidarity
"Keisha Blain has dug deeply into twentieth-century history to reveal the personal and political lives of African diaspora women determined to Set the World on Fire as they walked a fine line between leading and adhering to the black nationalist dictate of masculine leadership. Drawing upon a range of materials, including FBI files, personal letters, newspapers, and federal census records, Blain details every step of these women's organizing efforts and their pan-African visions."--Ula Taylor, author of The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam
From the Author
I faced many challenges writing this book. One of the most difficult ones to overcome was the issue of primary sources. I knew that I wanted to tell the story of how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics in the three decades after Marcus Garvey was deported from the United States, but I wasn't quite sure how that would be possible. At the very beginning of the research process, I sent out several inquiries to archivists and librarians asking if they were aware of any collections I might be able to explore. Their responses revealed to me that I had a major task ahead. With few exceptions (such as the Amy Jacques Garvey papers at Fisk), it was rare to find collections of black nationalist women during the period in which I was studying. That meant that I needed to build an archive and then analyze the materials in order to tell the story all at once.
The process of building that archive was physically and even emotionally taxing. In so many instances, I was only able to figure out specific details of these women's lives or details about a specific incident until I had completed a dozen or so research trips. As I collected materials and organized them chronologically and thematically, I was eventually able to piece together the story and even then, I would find gaps of information, which would force me to embark on even more research trips.
In one case, I spent 3 months combing through census records in order to find information about Celia Jane Allen--one of the women I discuss in the book. She worked very hard to stay under the radar (so much so that I later found correspondence with FBI officials who admitted having a hard time locating her) and I could not find much about her early life. After obsessing about this for months, I eventually sat down and decided to simply write about what I did know with the materials I had in my possession--a few of her letters and poems and some second-hand accounts. In the process of writing, I began to discover new clues and with time, I was able to construct a rich narrative about her life while being honest with readers about what I knew and simply did not know. Despite the challenges that I faced, I was encouraged by so many amazing scholars and activists who cheered me on to the finish line and reminded me of the significance of the book at those moments when I grew discouraged. I am glad I didn't "throw in the towel."