Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert Reid-Pharr

Committee Members

Carmen Kynard

Herman Bennett

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other American Studies


African American Literature, Black Studies, American Studies, Afrofuturism


Over the last twenty years, specifically with the summer 2002 issue of Social Text edited by Dr. Alondra Nelson, Afrofuturism has become a serious focus for academic inquiry. For people familiar with the term, Afrofuturism is presented as a movement borne of our contemporary moment. However, this dissertation explores the ways in which Afrofuturism is actually a cornerstone for both African American literature and the struggle for civil/human rights. I do this by exploring the following questions: How does the enslavement of African/ African Americans and its aftermath play out in early African American literature? How do African Americans writers situate and present their contemporary circumstances to audiences?

And finally, how do African American writers use literature as a tool to imagine and help create better futures?

This dissertation, then, constructs a cultural narrative from laws, print media, novels, and archival research. The interdisciplinary nature of this inquiry presents a picture of the societal ills being highlighted, critiqued, and re-imagined in early Afrofuturist texts and speculative returns in neo-slave narratives. To that end, I begin the dissertation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. The discussion of this text lays the foundation for the speculation regarding black creativity. The speculation of Phillis Wheatley’s talent is directly related to the early/pre-American conversations about black person-hood. The final chapter examines the ways in which authors writing at the height of the Jim Crow era utilized Afrofuturist principles in hopes of establishing better futures for the African diaspora.