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Water and African American MemoryAn Ecocritical Perspective$
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Anissa Janine Wardi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813037455

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813037455.001.0001

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African American Watersheds

African American Watersheds

(p.1) Introduction African American Watersheds (p.2)
Water and African American Memory

Anissa Janine Wardi

University Press of Florida

This chapter establishes that water—fluid, shifting, and indeterminate—is the material center of this book, and is employed as a framework for theorizing survival and trauma, diasporic and regional connections, and physical and psychological dislocations. Beginning with the transatlantic trade voyage, in which Africans were taken from their homelands and placed in the holds of slaving vessels—and during which, estimates suggest, one-third of the captives died—this project reveals that the confluence of death, loss, migration, and water is endemic to African American culture. August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean and Langston Hughes' “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” illustrate the indelible relationship between bodies of water and human bodies. Water is ancestrally embodied in these works, and encounters with it therefore often function as both confrontations with traumatic memory and rites of healing. Thus, ancestral communion is achieved by confronting the realm of the dead through water immersion. Further, waterways, carriers of memory, are interrelated and often morphing into one another, suggesting that the Middle Passage is an assumed presence in bodies of water.

Keywords:   watersheds, African Diaspora, ecocriticism, Langston Hughes, August Wilson, Gem of Ocean, trauma

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