"From a Distant Witness" in Rome and London: Black Atlantic Temporalities in William Demby's <i>Beetlecreek</i> and George Lamming’s <i>In the Castle of My Skin</i>

  • Melanie Masterton Sherazi University of California, Los Angeles
Keywords: Demby, William, Lamming, George, Black Atlantic, expatriate literature, Transnationalism, Temporal turn


This comparative analysis explores the formal methods with which two young black expatriate authors fictionalized their youth spent in segregated homelands in the Global South. Focusing on two modernist works of Cold War-era Black Atlantic fiction, William Demby’s Beetlecreek (1950) and George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin (1953), the article examines the authors’ respective exilic positions in Rome and London and their choice to pen debut, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novels set in the 1930s with existential undertones—Demby’s in a small segregated town in the US South and Lamming’s in a small colonial village in the Caribbean. Demby and Lamming use aesthetic modes of defamiliarization as a liberatory strategy, adopting modernist formal and temporal strategies to estrange structures of oppression. The essay argues for reading the authors’ novels beyond national and canonical boundaries as part of a larger body of Black Atlantic literature that deconstructs racialized regimes in the Global South. I conclude with a brief reading of each writer’s intersections with Langston Hughes and Richard Wright in New York and in Paris in 1956, positing mobile networks of black diasporic affiliation forged in a period of global flux and transformation.

Author Biography

Melanie Masterton Sherazi, University of California, Los Angeles

Melanie Masterton Sherazi is a Postdoctoral Instructor of American literature at the California Institute of Technology. She was a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA and received her Ph.D. from UC Riverside. She is currently writing a book, Nero e Rosso: Desegregationist Aesthetics in Cold War Rome (1947-65), inspired by her archival research into William Demby’s papers, which detail the author’s work in postwar Rome as a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter for the Italian cinema. She edited Demby’s posthumously published novel King Comus (Ishmael Reed Publishing, 2017); her articles on modernist literature appear in MELUS and Mississippi Quarterly.



Cluster on Black Diasporic Writing