In The Time Of Disaster: Representations Of Hurricane Katrina In African American Literature And Culture

Dana Cypress, University of Pennsylvania


In the Time of Disaster: Representations of Hurricane Katrina in African American Literature and Culture examines Black literary and cultural works that employ Hurricane Katrina as a poetic persona, narrative subject, geographical index, and temporal signal. In the months that followed its landfall, “Hurricane Katrina” functioned discursively as a loaded metonym for interrelated crises including the levee breaches, the failure of the state to adequately prepare for and respond to the needs of citizens, the deluge of media images centered on Black suffering, and the incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Media efforts to rationalize the government’s culpability inspired an abundance of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences about Hurricane Katrina’s economic, social, and political implications. In the Time of Disaster turns to literature and art to consider Hurricane Katrina’s significations through the works of Spike Lee, Terence Blanchard, Mat Johnson, Natasha Trethewey, Nikky Finney, Kiese Laymon, and Jesmyn Ward. This project examines how Black writers and artists disrupt and redraw the temporal and spatial boundaries of disaster to revise our collective cultural memories of the storm and suggest new ways of reading and writing our relationship to the environment in the wake of catastrophic loss.