To Be One with Nature

How West African Spiritualism Rewrites African American Ecoliterary Narratives

  • Carlotta Livrieri
Keywords: American South, West Africa, Spiritualism, Ecocriticism, African Americans, Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward


Southern US literature and African American literature often speak about racialized and dismembered bodies swallowed by the earth and never retrieved; Nature, in these instances, is hostile and “white”, as even trees become problematic symbols of lynching practices. This essay, however, attempts to retrieve and re-signify the concepts of soil and plants by analyzing the relationship between Black bodies and Nature from an Ecoliterary and Ecotheological point of view. This examination especially focuses on West African beliefs and their role in the African American re-appropriation of natural, earthly spaces and instances of the afterlife. Ethnic resistance and spiritual-medical knowledge have been crucial to African American cultural liberation, and the essay highlights this by analyzing the traces of African spiritualism and syncretism in the works of a number of African American authors, namely Toni Morrison and Jesmyn Ward. The result of this re-appropriation is, as I argue, a vivifying, hopeful and ultimately political series of images and literary tropes that overturn mournful and chthonic narratives, resuming positive and life-bearing relationships between Black bodies and Nature.