Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Phu, Thy


Land, Water, and Stars: Relationality in Anishinaabe and Diasporic Literatureexamines how relationality is encoded and portrayed in poetry, short stories, and novels by Anishinaabe and diasporic authors, Elizabeth Acevedo, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Gerald Vizenor, and Mohsin Hamid. Through engagement with select works by these writers, the thesis contributes to critical discussion about relationality, a concept that posits that all existence is relational and asserts that no human being is outside this state of being. A generative, complex concept for analyzing responses to displacement and dispossession, critiques of power, and visions of just and balanced co-existence, relationality provides a useful analytic lens through which to consider and assess literary frameworks for imagining connections between Indigenous and racialized diasporic communities. Through close readings of Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths(Acevedo), “nogojiwanong” (Simpson), Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57(Vizenor), and Exit West(Hamid), I analyze the significance of two pivotal themes for unfolding relationality’s potential: (i) the concept of decolonial love and (ii) the concept of constellations, as conveyed in the representation of land and stars.

The first section examines the relational aspects of decolonial love as taken up in works by Black Dominican-American poet Elizabeth Acevedo and Anishinaabe writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Through engagement with these works, the thesis demonstrates how decolonial love might conjure attraction, intimacy and care, which colonialism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism have damaged. The second section explores the significance of stars and constellations for unfolding relationality in novels by Anishinaabe theorist, Gerald Vizenor and Pakistani-British writer, Mohsin Hamid. This section illuminates the innovative ways that these writers draw on star knowledge to produce cross-hemispheric novels and reveals their insightful strategies for grappling with rootedness, migration, conquest, and displacement. Taken together, the thesis provides a critical description of the ways that literature might imagine, express, and enact relationality.

Summary for Lay Audience

In this dissertation, I analyze the poetry, short stories, and novels of two Anishinaabe writers, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Gerald Vizenor, and two diasporic writers, Elizabeth Acevedo and Mohsin Hamid. Specifically, I look for the different ways in which each author weaves the concept of relationality into their writings. Relationality is a term that is being theorized and used by scholars in diverse fields, from Indigenous thought to quantum physics to sociology, and others. In an academic context, I first came across the term in Indigenous theory, which has most strongly informed my understanding of the concept. Moreover, I think relationality is a primordial premise for many philosophies around the world, and I discuss it in terms of Afro-Caribbean thought in the first chapter, Anishinaabe thought in chapters two and three, and Sufi thought in the last chapter. In general, relationality is the perspective that all of existence is relational and no one exists as a solitary entity outside of relationships. Such a cosmological framework is counter to an individualist, exploitative worldview. Through close readings of Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths(Acevedo), “nogojiwanong” (Simpson), Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57(Vizenor), and Exit West(Hamid), I examine how relationality is expressed through two concepts: (i) decolonial love and (ii) constellations. The thesis offers a critical engagement with literature as a form of art that can help society imagine the ways in which relationality can be embodied and enacted towards the realization of a more balanced, just, and peaceful world.