Bodies of Water in African American Fiction & Film

deadline for submissions: 
November 5, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Ama S. Wattley, Sharon A. Lewis
contact email: 

We invite abstracts for a new book of original essays which 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.  In particular, we seek other innovative and provocative critiques of images of water in 20th and 21st Century African American fiction and film, poetry and drama.  At once, a few pieces of literature and film come to mind:  August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean; Zora Neal Hurston’s Janie Crawford in the Everglades; Michelle Cliff’s short story collection, Bodies of Water; so much of Toni Morrison’s fiction; readings of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust; Spike Lee on Hurricane Katrina; and, Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou, for example.  Our volume wants analyses which acknowledge the legitimacy of but move beyond the familiar or conventional interpretations of the Atlantic Ocean Middle Passage and/or Transatlantic Slave Trade.   

Some possible questions for African American analysis, including environmental or ecocritical contemplation:

*What roles do bodies of water play in African American literary and filmic creative imagination?  In particular, how does the trope of water/waterways get interwoven into works by African American authors and filmmakers?  

*How do waterbodies function within and across African American storytelling? 

*What is the relationship between characters/humans and bodies of water within a particular text?  What are the ways in which bodies of water impact on, thwart or enhance the experiences of the character(s)?

*What seems to be the link between water and collective African American cultural and socio-historical experience? 

*What are the ways in which ecocriticism might be a compelling framework for analyzing bodies of water in African American creative works?

*What do the authors seem to convey to readers about bodies of water in the context of the narrative at large? 

The inspiration for this edition was inspired by Kimberly K. Smith’s African American Environmental Thought and Annisa Janine Wardi’s Water and African American Memory:  An Ecocritical Perspective (2011), both pioneering works in African American humanities scholarship.  While Smith’s & Wardi’s studies are not the first to explore forms of nature within African American creative expressions (see Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, 2009), each brings together a set of narratives lending itself to further compelling investigations.  Ecocriticism is a swiftly emerging and widely-accepted (albeit evolving) cross-disciplinarian academic theory.  What’s more, so much African American storytelling is located on (or includes) U.S. coasts, riverbanks, and estuaries; involves the traversing of bodies of water; or represents the location of both spiritual and material sustenance from water bodies, at least.  Consequently, we envision our volume would complicate, extend and deepen, even offer rich and refreshing possibilities for reading African American fiction and filmic texts.  Our book’s intended audience comprises educators, graduate students and humanities scholars. 

Not later than 1 October 2021, please email your proposed chapter title and a 300-word abstract in docx format.  Include your name, affiliation and contact email.  We look forward to hearing from you, and if you have questions, please email either of the editors named above.