Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Qiana Whitted


In his 2005 book Conjure in African American Society, Jeffrey Anderson notes that America’s historical and academic interest in conjure has come in waves with each wave correlating to a different significant period in the fight for Black equality: Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Civil Rights Movement. In each of these movements, Black people have fought to find a way to belong in the United States as an equal, often undergoing travel and moving to different towns where they could have better economic, physical, or other freedoms. Since the start of the 21st century, there has been another revival of literature involving the extranatural (spiritual and magical elements including conjurings, hauntings and premonitions). In my project, I explore this new wave of interest in the extranatural, particularly analyzing the way characters’ relationships to the extranatural shifts as they move through different spaces as a means of finding spaces of belonging. My chapters will focus on figuratively orphaned characters that move through a variety of spaces as they work to discover, challenge, and accept their ancestry through extranatural guidance. To facilitate this analysis, my project draws attention to a trope I coin the “spatial orphan.” Within this project, I analyze various spatial orphans in 21st century texts to show how African American and Afro-Caribbean authors are using literature to discover a space of belonging amidst and in response to the post-Black movement whilst dealing with conflicts between individuality and community. Reading texts by Colson Whitehead, Nnedi Okorafor, John Keene, and Jesmyn Ward among others showcases a variety of extranaturally-guided movements – both accepted and disparaged – to show where safe spaces of belonging are being imagined and where they still need to be created.

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