Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

Document Type



Enslavement, colonization, and the systems that uphold racial injustice were and still are a series of new, unfathomable, and challenging experiences that prompt individuals within the diaspora to seek orientation. How does a human cope with centuries of attempts at the systematic destruction of their humanity, culture, and identity? How can they reclaim that identity, especially when so much of it seems lost? I address these questions by utilizing texts from the expansive body of work regarding ethnographic-historical-religious studies on Afro-spiritual practices to better analyze instances in literature in the ongoing practice of diasporic orientation. In this project, I argue for the existence of a diasporic orientation which is used to navigate life amid racial oppression and cultural suppression. The main argument of this dissertation is that diasporic micropractices are utilized to achieve successful orientations for individuals within the African Diaspora. My focus in the texts treated is that through the reclamation of these diasporic micropractices, individuals have reclaimed and reinvented their identity and thus have a mode of resistance against the systematic destruction of the self through colonization. I examine poetry, novels, and films from the Southern Region of the United States and the Caribbean in context with ethnographic research to examine how individuals find orientation through Sankofa micropractices. I demonstrate that regardless of the geographic and linguistic origins of these texts, the genres to which these texts belong, and the difference in the specifications of these situations, the practice of communicating with spirits and interpreting dreams is used to help guide individuals in acquiring orientation within the African Diaspora who are faced with difficult and uncertain situations. My academic intervention addresses how these practices are ever evolving and reinterpreted by individuals as they seek to achieve orientation. In Chapter 1, I discuss Maryse Condé’s Moi, Tituba Sorcière and Julie Dash’s film Daughters of the Dust. Condé’s novel retrieves the historical figure Tituba and reimagines her life and makes her a powerful ancestor who aids in resistance. Dash’s film brings together the enslaved ancestors, their descendants, the spirit of Eli and Eula’s unborn child, and the rest of the family who will be leaving for the mainland. These texts illustrate the use of Afro-Diasporic micropractices as a tool that, like the people who use them, have changed, shifted, and adapted for the time period and situation to help provide a form of orientation to master diasporic situations. These two texts echoed throughout the dissertation. In Chapter 2, I discuss Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and Farming of the Bones and Jamacia Kincaid’s Lucy to focus on individual micropractices such as dreaming, dream interpretation, discussing dreams, and receiving information from spirits in dreams helped individuals find a diasporic orientation in terms of place and displacement, colonial violence, and remembering or reimagining what would have been lost information. In Chapter 3, I use Ana Maurine Lara’s Kohnjher Woman and Erna Brodber’s Louisiana to expand from individual diasporic orientation to the partnership between the material (living beings) and the immaterial (spiritual beings or ancestors) to work together to record history and stories so that others may read it and help them inform their orientation. This chapter expands from individual work to partnership work to ensure Sankofa that aspects of culture are retrieved and re-implemented to inform orientation. Chapter 4 explores poetry from Nancy Morejón and René Depestre and their use of Negritude aesthetics and their retrieval and reimaging of figures from across the diaspora, including spirits, orishas, and loas to present an orientation that tells members of the diaspora to come together, continue to rebel, to rather than returned to the so far removed continental Africa, gain liberation for their new homes through a sense of Blackness, Caribbeanness, and Afro-Spirituality—having this uniting of all blackness in the diaspora.



Committee Chair

Katherine Henninger