It is rare that the launch of an academic book creates a buzz in non-academic circles, but the launch of Prof. Heather Russell’s book Legba’s Crossing – Narratology in the African Atlantic was an exception. A large, appreciative crowd turned out for the event held at the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines, Florida on March 27.
In offering her congratulations, Jamaica’s Consul General to the Southern United States, Mrs. Sandra Grant Griffiths, said that Prof. Russell was not only outstanding in the academic field but was also actively involved in the diaspora and so understood what it takes to have gotten here and what it will take to go forward.
Prof. Houston Baker, Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee praised Prof. Russell as “A born egalitarian whose activist scholarship has made a great contribution to diaspora studies.” Also bringing special greetings were Zimbabwean writer Chenjeral Hove, and Dr. Donna Aza Weir-Soley, Associate Professor at Florida International University, who kept the event on track with her warm and insightful remarks on Dr. Russell’s many fine qualities as a scholar, teacher, friend and mother.
Prof. Russell is an associate professor of English at Florida International University in Miami. In Jamaica, she attended St. Andrew High School then migrated to the U.S. and earned her PhD from Rutgers University. Her parents, Rev Horace Russell and Beryl Russell headed the family group on hand to add their share of congratulations and good wishes.
Prof. Russell closed the event with readings from her book, introducing the themes of Legba as the intermediary between humans and God – the ‘divine linguist’, and the linkages between history and literature as being practically interchangeable. The books she examines are; Salt by Earl Lovelace, No Telephone to Heaven, by Michelle Cliff and John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing.
Reviewers of the book have praised its scholarship and originality. Author and scholar Arlene Keizer says that “Legba’s Crossing is a fascinating, well-written book of considerable significance to African diaspora literary studies.” And Prof. Carol Boyce Davies of Cornell University says that “Legba’s Crossing puts Heather Russell among the best of her generation of scholars, adept in reading both formal literature and its theory and popular culture. Her work demonstrates a fluidity in its critical movements between Caribbean and U.S. African American textualities.”