Title

THE STORIES OF PETER OLIVER AND HIS PEOPLE: POEMS ON BLACK ANCESTRY, BLACK IDENTITY, AND BLACK LOVE

Year of Publication

2021

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Frank X. Walker

Abstract

This creative writing poetry thesis follows the lives, histories, and interactions of enslaved Black individuals, their slaveholders, their friends, their families, and their descendants. In Chapter I, Black ancestry is explored through the voice of writer Gabrielle Elise Oliver’s great-grandfather, six times removed, Peter Oliver (b. May 10, 1766; d. September 28, 1810), as well as the voices of the individuals he interacted with and of his descendants. As Peter Oliver is listed as one of the founders of American (Moravian-style) pottery and architecture despite being enslaved for the first 34 years of his life, and famously received his freedom by demanding it in court, the poems in this section follow both traumatic and striking events of his life, as well as those of the people connected to him. The poems in this section tell the story of Peter Oliver through persona, ekphrastic, contrapuntal, haiku, and nonce poetic forms.

Chapter II explores Black identity through poems on (more) modern examples of violence against Black people and other social, political, and health-related issues that continue to suppress the Black community’s ontological totality or freedom of movement in American society. These themes are explored through the use of nonce, metric, tanka, and free verse poetry.

Lastly – through the craft of contrapuntal, nonce, and free verse poems – Chapter III of this thesis explores the simultaneously complex and simple nature of Black love (both physical and emotional) that survives and is persistent in the face of unrelenting oppression.

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