Essays on Race and Empire


305 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55111-230-2
DDC 305.8





Edited by Maureen Moynagh
Reviewed by Mima Vulovic

Mima Vulovic is a sessional lecturer at York University who also works
at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.


In Essays on Race and Empire, Maureen Moynagh assembles a remarkable and
much-needed selection of Nancy Cunard’s major writings from the 1930s
and 1940s on race and imperialism. Cunard—an expatriate Briton, member
of the Parisian avant-garde circle, chronicler of the Spanish Civil War,
collector of African art, journalist, poet, editor, publisher, and
political activist—devoted much of her life to resisting imperial
legacy and fighting for racial justice. Central to this compilation is
Cunard’s seminal work Negro: An Anthology, a mammoth collaboration
with some of the most renowned intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance.

Moynagh organizes Cunard’s writings in three broad conceptual
groupings. The first, “Imperial Eyes,” emphasizes Cunard’s
anti-imperialist stance, seen through the prism of her travels to Harlem
and the Caribbean. The second, “Miscegenation Blues,” reveals Cunard
as a passionate participant in the debates about eugenics. The third
section, “The Red and the Black” offers a glimpse into Cunard’s
attempt to formulate a “solution” to the struggles of African
diaspora through Marxist principles and rhetoric. Moynagh also includes
a complementary selection of documents written by Cunard’s European
and African-American contemporaries (Mary Gaunt, Albert Wiggam, W.E.B.
DuBois, Richard Wright, etc.) and, in doing so, places Cunard’s work
within a larger social and geopolitical context of the modernist debate.

In her informed and highly critical introduction, Moynagh aptly scans
the ambivalent reception of Cunard’s work in the current academic
climate: some view her as a “largely neglected historian of black
culture,” while others denounce her as a “white patron of black
artists, unable to free herself from a privileged discourse.” Moynagh
does not choose sides, but opts to transcend the contention by arguing
that Cunard’s opus can be used as fodder for rethinking the
cross-sections of class, race, gender, and empire together, in a
theoretical manner that hopes to build on the revisions of modernism
begun by scholars like Baker, Said, and Felskiend.

Essays on Race and Empire is a wonderful edition not just for academics
in the field, but also for those interested in leftist preoccupations
and commitments during the first half of the 20th century, and for those
who accept as a given the dialectic synthesis of politics and art.


“Essays on Race and Empire,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,