Re-imagining the Past to Make a Future: Afrofuturism in Rita Dove's Sonata Mulattica

Document Type : Original Article


English Language and Literature Department, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University


The term ‘Afrofuturism’ was coined by the cultural critic, Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future,” describing music, art and literature that contains Afro-centric elements of fantasy, magical realism, and historical fiction. Afrofuturism is an aesthetic mode that embraces various genres and media that share an interest in imagining black futures derived from past Afro-diasporic experiences. By imagining the future in a black context, Afrofuturism aims to provide an escape from the oppressive past and present ailments through music, visual art, and literature. The US poet laureate Rita Dove’s Sonata Mulattica (2009) is about the life of George Bridgetower (1778–1860), an Afro-Polish prodigy violinist who gave the first performance of Beethoven’s ninth violin sonata. After dedicating it to Bridgetower, Beethoven destroyed the dedication thereby making the young violinist insignificant and eventually forgotten. It was Dove’s Sonata Mulattica that brought fame to Bridgetower in the world of music and is revived in modern productions based on Dove's book. This paper attempts to examine Afrofuturism, as a cultural aesthetic movement, in Dove’s Sonata Mulattica, to highlight how the intersection of re-imagining historical events and reimaging black aesthetic is able to liberate the black race by creating a future that transfers them into a level of refinement. The paper also makes use of theories of imagination and philosophical aesthetics with a particular focus on the role of imagination in creativity through engagement with notions of Afrofuturist artworks in order to construct a utopic landscape.