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4 Weeks of Reading as Writers: The Black Expatriate Tradition

How does a Black American writer escape America, and how does an escape from the source of one’s oppression change one’s aesthetic commitments? In this eight-week, four-session class, participants will read and discuss a selection of fiction and essays by Black expats. We will read this work in order to understand why these writers left, and, in some cases, decided to return to the United States. Did leaving the country allow these writers to receive a respite from the racism that dominated their lives or did they find that the system that they thought they were escaping was an international one—omniscient and infinitely powerful?

By reading these texts and writing short essays in response, we will aim to understand how this distance—both physical and mental—brought these writers the ability to form new identities for themselves as authors and humans. It will also allow us to see how place exerts force on our own work, and how that hindrance can be turned into an asset. As much as rootedness is helpful for writing, a feeling of dislocation can aid a writer to find a novel approach to express what is around them. Writers will leave this class able to better outline the unwieldy borders of their own existence.

Participants are expected to have read “An African American Goes to Berlin” before the first session.

Essays and books will include:

“An African American Goes to Berlin” by Philip Lewis

Another Country by James Baldwin

I Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone

Banjo by Claude McKay

Class will meet on Jun. 8 & 22, Jul. 6 & 20

Note: Any ‘ Writers’ student can opt in to a 45-minute consultation with the instructor for an additional fee of $105, in which you receive one-on-one feedback on any writing that emerged from the course, including ideas for revision and specific line edits. Please email [email protected] after your final group meeting to arrange a consultation.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Gain a familiarity with Black literature written in self-imposed exile by reading works that attempted to view America from a distance

- Figure out how place and race bleeds into their own writing and apply those realizations to the work that they create

- Gain an understanding of the socio-political hierarchies of America in order to deepen and broaden their own writing

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Each student will write a thousand word essay based on that week’s reading material. These essays will be the jump off point for what we discuss in class. Participants must have access to the three assigned books, and are expected to have read “An African American Goes to Berlin” for the first class meeting.


Each session will attempt to show how structural racism created the conditions where writers felt that the only way to devote themselves to their vocation was to leave the United States. What lessons can we learn from their lives?

Week 1: The Construction of the American Negro – Blackness in America is a construct that American writers must navigate, but the only way to talk about is by exploring how it came to be.

Week 2: Black Love – A close examination of how interpersonal relations are haunted by race, and the ways that writers have represented this idea.

Week 3: Working While Black – We will explore the idea of the international labor struggle, and the possibility it holds for exploding the concept of race in life and in writing.

Week 4: Exile or Return – We will discuss how the decision to stay in exile or return to one’s played out in the work of the writers we read.  

Hubert Adjei-Kontoh

Hubert Adjei-Kontoh is a writer and cultural critic, and he is currently working on a novel. His work has been published in Bookforum, The Guardian, and Pitchfork.


"Hubert does not settle for messy thinking, or messy sentences, and yet neither does he make a fetish of intellectualism over feeling. In his unpublished fiction that he allowed me to read, there is a unique and gathering voice that I find both very new and very old: new in its topics and language, but old in its connection to scriptural and folklore traditions and its curiosity not just about the minds and bodies and lives of its characters, but about their relationships to transcendence."

Joshua Cohen

"Evincing a thoughtful and rebellious imagination, Hubert’s writing reminds us of the unsettling power of language. In his fiction and criticism, he maintains the sense of value in each word, revealing an original voice interested in exhuming our lucid confusions. Through his stories of exile, paranoiacs, and displacement, we become clear-eyed to modernity’s assault on the self and art’s enduring, endemic defiance."

Zain Khalid

"Hubert Adjei-Kontoh is a gifted critic, writer and editor. His sensibility is sharply attuned to the political stakes in cultural life. His critiques demystify, clarify and enliven. He will be a stimulating and edifying teacher!"

Amana Fontanella-Khan

"Hubert’s light but firm touch as an editor has been essential in my development as a writer. Though he's never afraid to take the wheel and steer a piece when the situation calls for it, the care he takes in preserving a writer's voice has done wonders in helping me identify and cultivate my own over the two years that we've worked together. I trust him to be both sensitive and creative in his edits, and turn in work to him absolutely sure that the piece will emerge stronger than I could have imagined on my own."

Phillipe Roberts