Monday, June 13, 2022

Seven novels about being a queer immigrant

David Santos Donaldson was raised in Nassau, Bahamas, and has lived in India, Spain, and the United States. He attended Wesleyan University and the Drama Division of the Juilliard School, and his plays have been commissioned by the Public Theater. He was a finalist for the Urban Stages Emerging Playwright Award and has worked as the Artistic Director for the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts in Nassau, Bahamas. Donaldson is currently a practicing psychotherapist, and divides his time between Brooklyn, New York, and Seville, Spain. Greenland is his first novel.

At Electric Lit he tagged "seven novels [that] collectively give a wide perspective from the queer immigrant’s vantage point," including:
Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay

In this groundbreaking novel, Claude McKay—an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, and a Jamaican queer immigrant—fulfilled my fantasies of Marseille as a seedy but beautiful French port city teeming with a vibrant mix of native Francophones and African immigrants (both North and Sub-Saharan).

In Romance in Marseille, we follow Lafala, a Black African immigrant who stows away on a ship from Marseille bound to the United States. On the ship he is discovered, confined, and then tortured to the point of needing one leg amputated upon arrival in New York. With the luck of getting connected to a white lawyer, Lafala wins a lawsuit against the ship company for his torture. Lafala returns to Marseille with the money he’s awarded. He finds America—with its institutional racism and rampant capitalism—uninhabitable for a Black man. Once back in Marseille, Lafala re-enters the world of local immigrants—an array of colorful characters who work in and around the port. Among them are a lesbian couple (an Arabic and an African woman), a gay male couple, and even the protagonist seems open to bisexuality. Romance in Marseille, written in 1933 but not published until 2019 (initially “unpublishable” due to its queer content), is one of the very earliest novels to represent overtly queer people, and queer people of color. McKay’s conversational tone—often poetic, too—manages to entertain and delight while also being a searing commentary on racism, classism, and homophobia.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue