A rose for the warrior.
We were greatly saddened to hear of the death of Race & Class editorial working committee member Barbara Harlow on 28 January. A much-loved colleague, Barbara, professor of English Literature at the University of Texas, dedicated her life to the progressive causes of our times, in most recent years prioritising the struggle for a free Palestine. But she did so in a way that earthed political causes in the travails of human relationships.
Barbara, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio and studied at the State University of New York, completed her PhD on Marcel Proust in 1977. But, with the publication of her first book Resistance Literature in 1987, Barbara let it be known that she had moved out of the temple of high theory. The literary stream she would swim in from now on would be refreshed by the poets and writers of national liberation movements and resistance struggles in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Many more books and edited collections were to follow, notably Imperialism and Orientalism: a documentary sourcebook and Archives of Empire and After Lives: legacies of revolutionary writing. Political assassination of revolutionary writers emerged as a unifying theme in her writings and she was currently working on a biography of anti-apartheid activist Ruth First.
Barbara had an instinctive feel for people, all sorts of people (as well as cats) – and hospitality towards others, as I saw for myself during a trip to the University of Texas, was a priority. A tiny slip of a woman, Barbara hid her fragile physique under layers and layers of ballooning clothes. Her soft voice and gentle demeanour belied an enduring and resolute toughness. Like her beloved poets , Ghassan Kanafani and Mahmoud Darwish, she rejected the ‘roses that spring from a dictionary or diwan’, gathering to her heart the ‘roses’ that ‘grow over the wounds of the warrior’. In an America characterised by the racism, violence and coarseness of Trump, Barbara’s life reminds us of all that is inspiring, fearless, truth-seeking and, indeed, energising in the American radical spirit. It was a privilege to know Barbara – as a friend and a comrade – over so many years.
Read an award-winning essay by Barbara Harlow in Race & Class here