Scholar pens atmospheric biography of African American expats, revealing nuanced Black experiences in the U.S. and abroad

New York, NY–A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice pick, Dr. Tamara J. Walker’s “Beyond the Shores” reveals poignant histories of a diverse group of African Americans who have left the United States over the course of the past century. Together, the interwoven stories highlight African Americans’ complicated relationship to the United States and the world at large.

Drawing on years of research, Walker takes readers from well-known capital cities to more unusual destinations like Yangiyul, Uzbekistan, and Kabondo, Kenya. She follows Florence Mills, the would-be Josephine Baker of her day, in Paris, and Richard Wright, the author turned actor and filmmaker, in Buenos Aires. Throughout “Beyond the Shores,” she relays tender stories of adventurous travelers, including a group of gifted Black crop scientists in the 1930s, a housewife searching for purpose in the 1950s, and a Peace Corps volunteer discovering his identity in the 1970s. Tying these tales together is Walker’s personal account of her family’s, and her own, experiences abroad—in France, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, and beyond.

By sharing the accounts of those who escaped the racism of the United States to try their hands at life abroad, “Beyond the Shores” shines a light on the meaning of home and the search for a better life.

“Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad”

Tamara J. Walker | June 20, 2023 | Crown | Nonfiction, Biography, History

Hardcover | ISBN: 978-0593139059 | $28.00 

Praise for Tamara J. Walker and “Beyond the Shores”…

“Much more than a mere group biography, ‘Beyond the Shores’ is a well-researched account of how global social, cultural and political affairs shaped the conditions for African Americans to travel. Walker combines the detailed knowledge of a tour guide with storytelling flair.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Vivid . . . With each story, ‘Beyond the Shores’ builds a canon of Black creative expression that crosses both temporal and geographic barriers. . . . As others’ stories unfold, so does [Walker’s] own, giving the book the feel of a travel memoir without ever losing the gravity of a historical compendium. The interplay deepens the book’s storytelling.”

The Atlantic

“An intimate history . . . Nuanced, poignant tales that beautifully flesh out a little-known aspect of the African American experience.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Innovative . . . Walker provides a rich and nuanced portrait of an understudied aspect of African American life. It’s a unique contribution to American history.”

Publishers Weekly

About the Author…

TAMARA J. WALKER: As an Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Barnard College of Columbia University, Tamara’s teaching focuses on three interrelated areas: the history of slavery and freedom in Latin America; the process of racial formation in the region; and the ways in which gender shaped the experience of enslavement and racialization. 

As a writer, she has written commentary on fashion, pop culture, and travel, with the latter subject being particularly close to her heart. Her early exposure to international travel came while a scholarship student at a private high school. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, she spent a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina to conduct independent research on race and national identity in the region. Her semester abroad inspired her to pursue a PhD in Latin American History at the University of Michigan, where she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship for dissertation research in Peru. 

Tamara is a co-founder of The Wandering Scholar, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to make international education opportunities accessible to students from low-income backgrounds.

Tamara has written for publications such as The Root, TIME, Slate and the Guardian. She is the author of “Exquisite Slaves: Race, Clothing, and Status in Colonial Lima” (Cambridge University Press). “Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad” is her second book, published by Crown/Penguin Random House. Learn more about Tamara at:

In an interview, Tamara J. Walker can discuss:

  • How she selected the subjects for “Beyond the Shores”
  • Her own international travel stories and how they affected this book
  • How life differs for African Americans at home and abroad
  • Why she co-founded the nonprofit organization The Wandering Scholar
  • Travel tips, including how to travel like a historian, and how to travel with intention

An Interview with

Tamara J. Walker

1. What was your inspiration for writing “Beyond the Shores”? 

I’ve been carrying around the inspiration for the book ever since I was a kid, I think. Growing up in a military family with connections to various parts of the world, I grew up hearing amazing stories that I got a lot of joy and inspiration from at various points in my life. And then, the older I got, and the more members of my family began to pass away, taking their stories with them, I saw the book as a way of paying tribute. Not just to my own family but to the many families I name in its pages and those who hopefully see their own in them. And it’s a tribute to the millions of African Americans, past, present, and future, who have built this country and yet, for various reasons, found other parts of the world to call home. 

2. How did you select which subjects to include?

I wanted to tell a story that went beyond boldface names like Josephine Baker, James Baldwin and Richard Wright, and talked about African Americans’ experiences in places other than Paris. So I sought out lesser-known people in lesser-known places to showcase the expansive history of African Americans abroad, in ways that together reflected my subjects’ relationships to the United States and to the world at large. 

3. How did you approach blending memoir with narrative history?

I initially conceived of the book as a memoir and family history, but I quickly understood that we were just one small part of a much larger history. That realization became the framework for the book, in terms of taking snapshots from my and my family’s life and connecting them to the other stories I wrote about in the book. I started with my grandparents’ birth in the 1920s, which also happened to mark the beginning of the modern history of African Americans going abroad, and was able to weave my grandpa’s military service during WWII, my own early experiences of international travel, and recent family pilgrimages around Europe, to corresponding narrative chapters. 

4. What were some of your own travel memories that you explored while writing the book?

My first experience abroad was in Mexico as a teenager, and it was so formative in my life that I wanted to write about someone who traveled at a similarly young age. I found her in a pianist named Philippa Schuyler. Another formative experience was as a Fulbright fellow in Peru when I was in graduate school, both because it was around the same time that my grandfather was dying and because the Fulbright program itself has an interesting origin story in the Cold War era. I was able to explore that history and another program that emerged in the same period, the Peace Corps, by spotlighting a volunteer who served in Kenya. 

5. Can you tell us about The Wandering Scholar?

The Wandering Scholar is an organization I co-founded with Shannon Keating because we both had such life-altering experiences of studying abroad when we were young (we both coincidentally went to Mexico in high school and Argentina in college) despite coming from low-income households, that we wanted to ensure other people from similar backgrounds could experience the transformative power of international travel. Our mission is twofold: to make international education opportunities accessible to high-schoolers from underrepresented backgrounds; and to produce multimedia content that embodies our vision of engaged, globally-minded citizenship. 

6. What does intentional travel mean to you, and what advice do you have for today’s travelers?

My cofounder Shannon Keating and I came up with the concept of intentional travel to distill what we do for our students into lessons that travelers of all ages and backgrounds can apply to their own engagement with the world. We define it as the act of traveling with a meaningful purpose that centers ethical considerations, respect for host communities, sustainability, and impact. This means asking yourself a series of questions every time you travel, about why you are traveling, how host communities (including both people and environments) are affected by your decision to travel, and what story travel enables you to tell about your destination and yourself. The act of asking, we find, makes it harder to ignore the impact of individual decisions on issues like climate change and overtourism, and links travel to our everyday politics.

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