A haunting lifeline between archive and memory, law and poetry.
In November, 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that some 150 Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect insurance monies. Relying entirely on the words of the legal decision Gregson v. Gilbert—the only extant public document related to the massacre of these African slaves—Zong! tells the story that cannot be told yet must be told. Equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, and chant, Zong! excavates the legal text. Memory, history, and law collide and metamorphose into the poetics of the fragment. Through the innovative use of fugal and counterpointed repetition, Zong! becomes an anti-narrative lament that stretches the boundaries of the poetic form, haunting the spaces of forgetting and mourning the forgotten.
This fifteenth anniversary edition features a new introduction by M. NourbeSe Philip, as well as essays by Saidiya Hartman and Katherine McKittrick.
M. NourbeSe Philip is a renowned poet, essayist, novelist, playwright, and independent scholar. She practised law for seven years before becoming a poet and writer. Among her published works are the seminal She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks; the speculative prose poem Looking for Livingston: An Odyssey of Silence; the young adult novel Harriet’s Daughter; the play Coups and Calypsos; and four collections of essays, including her most recent collection, BlanK. Her book-length poem Zong! is a conceptually innovative, genre-breaking epic, which explodes the legal archive as it relates to slavery. Zong! was named the 2021 winner of World Literature Today’s 21 Books for the 21st Century. Among her awards are the prestigious Chalmers Award (Ontario Arts Council), the Canada Council’s Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award (Outstanding mid-career artist), as well as the Pushcart Prize (USA), the Casa de las Americas Prize (Cuba), the Lawrence Foundation Prize (USA), the Arts Foundation of Toronto Writing and Publishing Award (Toronto), and Dora Award finalist (Drama). Her fellowships include Guggenheim, McDowell, and Rockefeller (Bellagio). She is an awardee of both the YWCA Woman of Distinction (Arts) and the Elizabeth Fry Rebels for a Cause awards. M. NourbeSe Philip is the 2020 recipient of PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, as well as the 2021 recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ lifetime achievement award, the Molson Prize, for her “invaluable contributions to literature.”
“M. NourbeSe Philip writes a poetry whose innovation—her spells of silence, her stuttering syntax—is not an abstract experiment but a form of mourning for African words prohibited by ‘the ceremony of White in the elsewhere of time.'”—Zinzi Clemmons, Literary Hub
“At times I’m uncomfortable with both poetry and history, but then a book like Zong! comes along and reminds me how the lyric can shake up history’s limited logics and history can shake up poetry’s occasional evasive sheen.”—Jill Magi, Poetry Project Newsletter
“Those still confused about why poetry might fracture and splinter and stutter can find an answer in the work of M. NourbeSe Philip. In Zong! she delves into the trauma of the plantation economy and allows her language to be shaped by the conflicts between telling and not telling, between naming and not naming that define the horrifying story of the slave ship Zong. This book is exceptional and uniquely moving.”—Juliana Spahr, author of This Connection of Everyone with Lungs