While the word ‘Americana’ stokes a nostalgic glow for some, it invokes less than warm and fuzzy feelings in others. “For African Americans, the broad unavailability of historical nostalgia comes out of centuries of racial violence, from which no period can be culled to inspire good feelings in the present,” writes Badia Ahad-Legardy in her new multicultural studies book, Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture. This thoroughly researched book seeks and sheds light on the spaces where Black joy can live and flourish. Though its tone is academic, its insights reach far beyond the classroom. “I argue that ‘pretty’ modes of memory are also the province of the African-descended,” writes the author, who has broken the text into four chapters, deploying nostalgia “as a mode of historical redress, as a disruption of ‘white nostalgia,’ as a means of cultivating well-being, and as a strategy of cultural reclamation.”
Using literature, performance, music, as well as visual and culinary art, the book argues that nostalgia is prospective as well as retrospective, that Afro-nostalgic sentiment is a launching point for future joy, “a point of departure in which the past functions as a form of embodiment and affect.”
The final chapter, in describing the works of two popular chefs, Marcus Samuelsson and Bryant Terry, also gives a glimpse of the academic author’s own food memories. This chapter adopts a more personal tone. “I am aware that the simple act of eating yams will not magically transport me or my children to the memory of an African (or even southern) homeland,” writes Ahad-Legardy. “But the act of purchasing sweet potatoes from black farmers at the Healthy Food Hub and jamming out to Erykah Badu’s ‘Back in the Day’ while preparing sweet potato granola provides its own nostalgic possibilities for the future.”
Afro-Nostalgia is part of the University of Illinois Press’s The New Black Studies series. It is a worthy addition to any multicultural studies library and to readers interested in American culture.