The Space in Between: Middle Passage Movement and Black Women's Literature

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“The Space in Between: Middle Passage Movement and Black Women’s Literature” explores renderings of the Middle Passage in literature by African American and Caribbean writers. Departing from the premise that the term “Middle Passage” is insufficient where it concerns describing the massive forced migration that occurred during this trans-Atlantic catastrophe, I look to black women writers in order to build a different vocabulary to depict that which has no beginning, middle, or end; that which is not confined to a narrow strait but whose nomenclature suggests otherwise. Bringing together Caribbeanist philosophical treatises on crossing with the dynamic work in black geography studies and black feminist literary criticism, I argue that black women writers intervene in what has previously been a male dominated field of criticism on the Middle Passage and use their literature to retell Middle Passage stories anew and isolate specific forms of movement such as holding, landing, and crawling, that outlive the period of trans-Atlantic slavery.

Across four chapters, this dissertation addresses the challenges of writing about the Middle Passage for which there is no set of identifiable ruins before turning specifically to three works of literature – M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! (2008), Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow (1983), and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). Each of the works I study either recreates or takes inspiration from a historical event that occurred during the Middle Passage or a subsequent crossing such as the 1781 Zong massacre, the 1803 Igbo Landing drowning, and the 1856 infanticide committed by Margaret Garner. Heeding to the motion necessary for this particular trans-Atlantic event ultimately allows us to reckon with what I call “Middle Passages” or “Middle Passings” – the multiple crossings that ensue in the wake of this unparalleled event. Tracing how black women move inevitably reveals where they move to and through putting pressure on the term “middle” that precedes “passage” identifying multiple mid-spaces while also calling for an expansion of critical “sites of slavery” and afterlives of slavery, more generally.






Panaram, Sasha Ann (2020). The Space in Between: Middle Passage Movement and Black Women's Literature. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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