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Open AccessArticle

Continuing Conjure: African-Based Spiritual Traditions in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing

Guttman Community College, 50 West 40th St., New York, NY 10018, USA
Religions 2019, 10(7), 403; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070403
Received: 10 April 2019 / Revised: 20 June 2019 / Accepted: 23 June 2019 / Published: 26 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religions in African American Popular Culture)
In 2016 and 2017, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing both won the National Book Award for fiction, the first time that two African-American writers have won the award in consecutive years. This article argues that both novels invoke African-based spirituality in order to create literary sites of resistance both within the narrative of the respective novels, but also within American culture at large. By drawing on a tradition of authors using African-based spiritual practices, particularly Voodoo, hoodoo, conjure and rootwork, Whitehead and Ward enter and engage in a tradition of African American protest literature based on African spiritual traditions, and use these traditions variously, both as a tie to an originary African identity, but also as protection and a locus of resistance to an oppressive society. That the characters within the novels engage in African spiritual traditions as a means of locating a sense of “home” within an oppressive white world, despite the novels being set centuries apart, shows that these traditions provide a possibility for empowerment and protest and can act as a means for contemporary readers to address their own political and social concerns. View Full-Text
Keywords: voodoo; conjure; African-American literature; protest literature; African American culture; Whitehead; Ward; American literature; popular culture voodoo; conjure; African-American literature; protest literature; African American culture; Whitehead; Ward; American literature; popular culture
MDPI and ACS Style

Mellis, J. Continuing Conjure: African-Based Spiritual Traditions in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. Religions 2019, 10, 403.

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