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If I Could Write This in Fire

2008
Author:

Michelle Cliff

If I Could Write This in Fire

A deeply personal meditation on history and memory, place and displacement by a major writer

Born in a Jamaica still under British rule, the acclaimed writer Michelle Cliff embraced her many identities: a light-skinned Creole, a lesbian, an immigrant in both England and the United States. In her celebrated fiction, she has probed the intersection of prejudice and oppression with striking lyricism.

In this collection of nonfiction, Cliff displays the same poetic intensity, interweaving reflections on her life with a powerful critique of racism, homophobia, and social injustice.

Michelle Cliff has always been a fierce and fearless writer. In this incendiary collection, which ranges from engaging with the work of Lorca, Pasolini and Ama Ata Aidoo to revisiting the life of Oto Benga, Cliff examines place and race and legacy, the things we carry with us in our memory and blood. Here is a line from the start of the book: ‘revolutionaries are made, not born.’ This book could make them. Be prepared.

Rebecca Brown, author of The End of Youth

Born in a Jamaica still under British rule, the acclaimed and influential writer Michelle Cliff embraced her many identities, shaped by her experiences with the forces of colonialism and oppression: a light-skinned Creole, a lesbian, an immigrant in both England and the United States. In her celebrated novels and short stories, she has probed the intersection of prejudice and oppression with a rare and striking lyricism.

In her first book-length collection of nonfiction, Cliff displays the same poetic intensity, interweaving reflections on her life in Jamaica, England, and the United States with a powerful and sustained critique of racism, homophobia, and social injustice. If I Could Write This in Fire begins by tracing her transatlantic journey from Jamaica to England, coalescing around a graceful, elliptical account of her childhood friendship with Zoe, who is dark-skinned and from an impoverished, rural background; the divergent life courses that each is forced to take; and the class and color tensions that shape their lives as adults. The personal is interspersed with fragments of Jamaica’s history and the plight of people of color living both under imperial rule and in contemporary Britain. In other essays and poems, Cliff writes about the discovery of her distinctive, diasporic literary voice, recalls her wild colonial girlhood and sexual awakening, and recounts traveling through an American landscape of racism, colonialism, and genocide—a history of violence embodied in seemingly innocuous souvenirs and tourist sites.

A profound meditation on place and displacement, If I Could Write This in Fire explores the complexities of identity as they meet with race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and the legacies of the Middle Passage and European imperialism.

If I Could Write This in Fire

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Michelle Cliff has lectured at several universities and was Allan K. Smith Professor of English Language and Literature at Trinity College in Hartford. She is the author of the acclaimed novels Abeng, No Telephone to Heaven, and Free Enterprise, as well as two collections of short fiction, Bodies of Water and The Store of a Million Items. She lives in California.

If I Could Write This in Fire

Michelle Cliff has always been a fierce and fearless writer. In this incendiary collection, which ranges from engaging with the work of Lorca, Pasolini and Ama Ata Aidoo to revisiting the life of Oto Benga, Cliff examines place and race and legacy, the things we carry with us in our memory and blood. Here is a line from the start of the book: ‘revolutionaries are made, not born.’ This book could make them. Be prepared.

Rebecca Brown, author of The End of Youth

Passions seethe below the surface. . . . Cliff’s prose is admirably crafted—lean, controlled, full of meticulous images.

San Diego Tribune

If I Could Write This in Fire is a book of undeniable beauty. It is a collection of nonfiction in which almost every single word has been quite obviously cared for, in which the work’s considerable vitality can be measured in the bounce of the language and the tensile strength of metaphor.

The Quarterly Conversation

Cliff’s writing in these essays is a model of clarity, and her deft use of what she terms ‘fragmentation’ draws the reader vividly into her experiences rather that pushing the reader away. She layers impression over impression, tender detail over tender detail, to build breathtaking sums from small, acutely observed parts.

Feminist Review

Long before postmodernism turned the question of the splitting of identities into what now appears to be an academic pastime, Cliff was exposing the supposed fixity of categories of social belonging and theorizing in her own unique amalgam of styles the heterogeneity of the Caribbean culture.

H-Net Reviews

Michelle Cliff has a knife-sharp eye for detail and has an uncanny ability to burrow into your brain with observations that almost hurt. The sadness in If I Could Write This in Fire is so real that you can carry it; the wit, so keen it can cut; the anger, hot as a poker. This satisfying thought-provking book is the kind that, when finished, begs for renewed attention.

Metroline

The cumulative power of this poetically crafted, anecdotal, elliptically constructed trajectory of personal essays is its incisive depiction of the virulent impact of colonialism—a delicately engineered balance of race, color, and class—on individual and national psyches.

Multicultural Review

Cliff combines personal narrative with societal and cultural observations to make profound, poetic points.

Make/Shift