Tracing Morocco: Postcolonialism and Spanish Civil War Literature

  • Emily Robins Sharpe Keene State College
Keywords: Spanish Civil War, postcolonialism, African diaspora, Langston Hughes, John A. Williams


Increasing scholarly attention to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has exposed the colonial implications of the Spanish Republic’s fight against Franco’s fascist coup. The Spanish Republic’s refusal to relinquish its colonial control allowed Franco to exploit Moroccan antipathy and poverty in support of his forces. For many North American volunteers—and particularly for the hundred or so African Americans who fought in Spain—the war’s stakes were not only tied to European fascism and American racism, as Popular Front and black expatriate artists often depicted, but also to colonial relationships between Europe, Africa and the New World. This essay examines literary depictions of these colonial relationships in the works of Langston Hughes and John A. Williams, contextualizing their writings alongside fictional and biographical representations of Moroccan and African American participation by North American writers who, like Hughes, participated in the Spanish Civil War. Read together, the depictions and erasures of African diasporic contact across political lines reveal the underlying contradictions used to construct categories of racial, national, and religious difference—categories used as rallying cries on each side of the battle line. Williams’s retrospective positioning and Hughes’s writings from the war’s midst together represent the war’s stakes as yet another global conflict in which members of the African diaspora faced even greater risks and greater losses.

Author Biography

Emily Robins Sharpe, Keene State College

Emily Robins Sharpe is Assistant Professor of English and an affiliate faculty member of the departments of Women’s and Gender Studies and Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. She is at work on a book project, “Mosaic Fictions: Writing Identity in the Spanish Civil War,” examining North American literature by writers marginalized for their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. With Bart Vautour and Kaarina Mikalson, she co-directs the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada-funded project “Canada and the Spanish Civil War” ( She has published critical editions of out-of-print Spanish Civil War literature: Hugh Garner’s Best Stories (1963) and, with Vautour, Charles Yale Harrison’s Meet Me on the Barricades (1938).