Joyce Green MacDonald, University of Kentucky
Since the publication of her first novel in 1979, Gayl Jones’s fiction has consistently imagined the history of African Americans as extending beyond the borders of the United States. Her most recent novel, Mosquito (1999), takes up her familiar pan-Americanism as it recounts the story of a black woman who works to smuggle political refugees from Mexico and Central America to the United States. But Mosquito augments Jones’s familiar sense of the hemispheric shaping of black American culture with a transatlantic element, as it exploits the rich cross-cultural valences of Shakespeare’s Othello. This essay argues that the tragedy informs Mosquito’s deep concern with the erasure of deeply drawn borders between cultures, nations, races, and registers of language. The novel reorients readers’ understanding of the play, inviting us to imagine its significance to the construction of the identities of African American women, rather than primarily of African American men, as has been the focus of much nationalist recuperation of this Shakespearean text.