Standing in a crooked room: Black feminism and traumatic legacies within contemporary African American literature



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This dissertation was born out of noticing a recurring theme in African American literature, which is the historical continuity of slavery on African Americans. Furthermore, this project seeks to advance scholarly discussions in the field of trauma studies in conjunction with Black Feminist studies, specifically how trauma studies can transcend its Eurocentric roots and encompass traumatic experiences of other cultures through intersectionality. The project expands on an African American literary tradition where other Black writers articulate the impact of slavery’s traumatic legacy over time. This dissertation examines four novels: Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage (2018), Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016), and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (2016). The first chapter analyzes Jones’s novel by identifying mass incarceration as an extension of slavery for African Americans and misogynoir as a microaggression that Black women experience as another source of trauma. The second chapter continues with Ward’s novel and much of the same traumatic circumstances that plague characters in Jones’s novel. The third chapter emphasizes the roles of traumatic testimony and witnessing play in articulating slavery’s psychological impact by placing Whitehead’s novel in conversation with key trauma studies concepts. The last chapter not only explores traumatic experiences from slavery to the present, but also focuses on various descendants of the same family separated by distance and circumstance. Aside from articulating traumatic experiences associated with slavery, the project’s chapters utilize the crooked room theory from Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen (2011) to argue that the traumatic legacy of slavery is the crooked room that Black people, especially Black women, are forced to navigate in order to facilitate healing. Much like trauma, healing is not a linear concept, and healing is more about reclaiming oneself in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. Overall, this project utilizes trauma studies and Black Feminist studies as critical lenses to explain the significance of trauma and traumatic experiences that stem from slavery and how this advances scholarly discussions about African American literature.

Embargo status: Restricted until 06/2026. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.



Trauma Studies, Black Feminist Studies