Showing Her Colors: An Afro-German Writes the Blues in Black and White

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Women on 2011-11-22 04:29Z by Steven

Showing Her Colors: An Afro-German Writes the Blues in Black and White

Volume 26, Number 2, Spring 2003
pages 306-319
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2003.0045

Karein Kirsten Goertz, Lecturer of Germanic Language and Literature
University of Michigan

This essay undertakes a detailed analysis of May Ayim’s Blues in Schwarz Weiss and examines her development of what she terms Ayim’s “hybrid language”—an expressive poetic style in which African and German elements are not mutually exclusive but rather two interwoven strands that Ayim brings together to articulate the texture of her identity as a Black German. Goertz contends that Ayim’s use of complex forms of irony and displacement constitutes a sophisticated practice of “defamiliarization” that represents an important new signifying practice in German literary expression.

I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness as I discover you in myself.
Audre Lorde

That bird is wise, look. Its beak, back turned, picks for the present what is best from ancient eyes, then steps forward, on ahead to meet the future, undeterred.

Through her poetry, essays and political activism. May Ayim sought to dissolve the socially and politically constructed borders that continued to exist after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. To her, the post-unification “new German solidarity” with its nationalistic rhetoric of Heimat (homeland), Volk (the people) and Vaterland (fatherland) signaled a redrawing of the line between those who were considered part of the German collective and those who were not; the previous ideological and geopolitical faultline between Fast and West was being replaced by a division along ethnic lines. Afro-Germans and other ethnic minorities living in Germany recognized that “the new ‘We’ in ‘this our country’ did and does not make room for everyone.” Rather than feeling summoned by this newly constructed collective identity, they understood it to be a place of confinement or delimitation and exclusion: “ein eingrenzender und ausgrenzender Ort” (Ayim, “Das Jahr” 214). Ayim’s spatial description of the pronoun signals that the repercussions of its limited parameters are real and practical, as well as psychological. Unable to identify with the new definition of the first-person possessive pronoun, she invariably finds herself cast into its second-person negative.

The title poem of Ayim’s first poetry volume, Blues in Schwarz Weiß (Blues in Black and White), published in 1995, traces the process of marginalization along color lines, with German unification as one of its more recent manifestations. To explain the age-old dynamic between black and white, she references the African-American tradition of the blues: during the celebration of German unity, some rejoiced in white, while others mourned on its fringes in black—together they danced to the rhythm of the blues. The blues were born out of the experience of oppression, but, as Angela Davis points out, blues also offers the key to transcending the racial and gender imbalance…

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The Blues in Black and White: A Collection of Essays, Poetry, and Conversations

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Women on 2011-07-28 00:18Z by Steven

The Blues in Black and White: A Collection of Essays, Poetry, and Conversations

Africa World Press, Inc.
May 2003
179 pages
ISBN-10: 0865438900; ISBN-13: 978-0865438903

May Ayim (1960-1996)

Translated by Anne Adams, Professor Emeritus in the Africana Studies & Research Center
Cornell University

The ever-engaging work of the controversial activist/writer, May Ayim, covers a fascinating range of themes: biography, politics, love as well as the absurdities of everyday life. Her unique ability to passionately transform diverse subject matters into poetic language is revealed in this important collection of translated pieces. Her play with language is effective and at times transformative, as it expresses and exposes dangerous stereotypes and messages hidden in the everyday use of language and human behavior. Here, her readers will be surprised and frequently confronted with Ayim’s keen and powerful observations of the complexities of life and the compelling richness of humor and irony within them.

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Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Europe, Media Archive, Women on 2010-05-11 02:25Z by Steven

Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out

Orlanda Frauenverlag (German)
University of Massachusetts Press (English)
ISBN: 0-87023-759-4
Likely out of print.

Edited by

May Opitz [Ayim]
Katharina Oguntoye
Dagmar Schultz

Translated by Anne V. Adams

Foreword by Audre Lorde

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May Ayim: A Woman in the Margin of German Society

Posted in Biography, Dissertations, Europe, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2010-05-11 02:02Z by Steven

May Ayim: A Woman in the Margin of German Society

The Florida State University College of Arts and Scienes
Spring Semester, 2005
76 pages

Margaret MacCarroll, Professor of Modern Languages: German Division
Florida State University

A thesis submitted to the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

This work explores the life of the Afro-German writer May Ayim by analyzing her writings as well as by discussing the social circumstances in which she lived. Chapter 1 provides a look at the Ayim’s life, with special emphasis on major factors influencing her childhood. The effects of the personal as well as social pressures that Ayim dealt with as a child and young adult are also discussed. Chapter 2 focuses on the history of Afro-German children born shortly after World War II. Chapter 3 includes an explanation of Minor Literature and an examination of May Ayim as an author of such literature. Her importance as such is established. Due to Ayim’s position outside the mainstream of German society, social factors that greatly affected her life as a result of this situation are discussed in Chapter 4. These factors are: identity, culture, and ethnicity. In Chapter 5 Ayim’s attempts to incorporate both the white and black aspects of herself despite the deeply rooted history of racism in Germany are also discussed. Chapter 6 includes an examination of the toll that Ayim’s familial and social experiences played on her feelings of romantic love, especially toward another Afro-German. Chapter 7 examines the exhaustion that Ayim felt toward the end of her life.

Table of Contents


    Ayim’s Struggle with “Otherness“
    Childhood Pressure
    The White World and Ayim’s Black Father
    Grasping her Africanness
    Desire for Whiteness even in Africa

    Recent History of Racism and Mischlingskinder after World War II

    The Afro-German Minority Represented in Ayim’s Poetry


    Racism on the Global Scale
    Incorporating Her White and Black Self




Read the entire thesis here.

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‘Fühlst du dich als Deutsche oder als Afrikanerin?’: May Ayim’s Search for an Afro-German Identity in her Poetry and Essays

Posted in Articles, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2010-05-10 22:16Z by Steven

‘Fühlst du dich als Deutsche oder als Afrikanerin?’: May Ayim’s Search for an Afro-German Identity in her Poetry and Essays

German Life and Letters
Volume 59 Issue 4 (October 2006)
Pages 500-514
DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0483.2006.00364.x

Jennifer Michaels, Professor of German; Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professor of Humanities
Grinnell College, Iowa

Until her suicide in 1996, May Ayim was one of the leading voices among Afro-German women and the group’s most prominent poet. In her poetry and essays, she addresses such topics as marginalisation, multiculturalism and identity formation and describes her struggle to live in a society where she encountered racial prejudice and stereotypes. Her texts map the stages in her development from rejecting being black and wishing to be white to affirming her biracial identity, which she came to view as a source of her creativity. In her poetry she not only depicts aspects of the Afro-German experience but also powerfully evokes feelings of abandonment, loneliness, love and death. In this article I will set Ayim’s work into the context of the Afro-German experience and highlight issues that were of particular concern to her.

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