Book Chapter by Dr. Varlack and Deja Edwards Accepted to Upcoming Book of Essays, Bodies of Water in African American Fiction & Film

January 4, 2022 Daniel DiPrinzio

Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, assistant professor of English at Arcadia University, and Deja Edwards '18, MFA21, MA21, Arcadia alumna and adjunct English instructor, have collaborated on a chapter that will be published in an upcoming book of original scholarly essays, Bodies of Water in African American Fiction & Film. The book will feature essays that explore the meaning and/or function of still or moving bodies of water -- lakes, rivers, the sea, gulfs, streams, ponds, canals -- in narratives by African Americans.

The proposed chapter, “Pushed and Pulled from the Shore: Ocean as a Site of Healing and Transformation in Contemporary Neo-Slave Narratives,” explores the ocean as a site of healing and transformation in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The Deep by Rivers Solomon. The chapter is an extension of material Dr. Varlack taught in the fall 2021 semester in his Black Science Fiction and Social Reality University Seminar as well as material from Edwards’ Master of Arts in English thesis.

The chapter begins by acknowledging the fact that for many African and African-descended peoples, the ocean is a site of undeniable historical trauma connected to the Middle Passage and the transatlantic slave trade, as in the case of the infamous 1781 massacre in which the British crew of the Zong slave ship threw 130 enslaved Africans overboard. Such incidents highlighted both the widespread disregard for Black lives and the depths of human depravity--all recorded in contemporary neo-slave narratives such as Gyasi’s 2016 novel Homegoing and Solomon’s 2019 novella The Deep

“While these works play an important role in recording in part the histories of those abandoned to the seas, what is equally significant is their investigation into the water as a site of healing and as a connection to a heritage once severed by the forced transplantation of Blacks across the slave-holding world,” wrote Dr. Varlack and Edwards. “In other words, water is not just connected to histories of departure, kidnapping, and isolation; it also offers opportunities to reconnect, reclaim, and rebuild.” 

This chapter by Dr. Varlack and Edwards will call attention to the intersections among water, communal healing, and progressive cultural transformation--the foundation for building Black counter-futures unimpeded by histories of trauma and oppression. As Dr. Varlack declares, “For the African-American community still facing forms of violence, police brutality, judicial inequities, and more, this focus on healing is all the more important as we seek to understand how to counter the silencing, erasure, and capitulation to the racial status quo that past and present violence is intended to create.”

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