Paule Marshall’s “Brown Girl, Brownstones”

1959

United States

Identity & Belonging Media & Culture

Published in 1959, Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones tells the coming-of-age story of second-generation immigrant, Selina Boyce, who struggles to forge an identity that reconciles her Bajan roots and American surroundings. Set in Brooklyn, New York during the Great Depression and World War II, the novel depicts the efforts of Selina and her parents to overcome poverty and surmount racism. Marshall’s novel draws attention to the roughly 300,000 individuals who fled plantation colonies in the Southern Americas during the first decades of the twentieth century for the United States.

Marshall’s novel was not traditionally read in the context of migrant or ethnic literature, as it represented an often-overlooked migration of people of African descent from the Latin American and the Caribbean to the United States. Today, this migration is more commonly featured in works like Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes Memory. Brown Girl, Brownstones is a staple in Black-American immigrant literature for its exploration of second-generation immigrants’ possibility to reconcile difference, living–not between—but within two worlds.