Rivers Solomon’s The Deep is a beautiful and gut wrenching novella. At this current time, I don’t think I could have read it if I hadn’t listened to Daveed Diggs’ narration. Diggs and his fellow clppng’s William Hutson and Jonathon Snipes, hold author credits because the novella is based a song they wrote, commissioned by NPR’s This American Life for “We Are in the Future” an episode about Afrofuturism. Clppng’s song was an homage to Detroit’s Drexciya who imagined an underwater utopia created by the pregnant African women thrown overboard in the Atlantic slave trade. Diggs describes this as an artistic game of Telephone. The changes made as it it transmitted from one artist to another are a feature, not a bug.
In Solomon’s The Deep, Yetu is the historian of the Waijinru, the descendants of the unborn children whose African mothers were thrown into the ocean. The historian holds the memories of their people, allowing the Waijinru to live unburdened by the grief of their origins. For a short time each year the Waijinru gather and absorb those memories, keeping them connected to their history and then they return the memories to the historian, until the next gathering. The memories of the ancestors and the loneliness of the burden is killing Yetu. When she shares the memories, instead of taking them back, she flees.
Years ago I came across a YouTube series called “Ask a Slave.” It was funny, but not actually funny at all, as the main character, Lizzie Mae, answered the questions put to her by visitors at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. The questions were horrifying in their lack of understanding of generational chattel slavery and basic historical facts. It stuck with me. After I read The Deep, I looked for the This American Life episode that commissioned the song from clppng. One of the chapters of that episode was as from Azie Dungey, creator and star of “Ask a Slave.” She talked about being the only Black actor at Mount Vernon, the weight she felt representing all the people enslaved at Mount Vernon, the not at all funny way that visitors treated her, and the co-worker who joked about rape. It took a toll on her physically and mentally.
I can talk from a distance about the The Deep as a metaphor – for the beauty and life that can be built after violence and trauma, for the alienation and pain of generational trauma, and for the burden of memory that white Americans mostly shirk. But I can’t put into words the feelings I had reading The Deep. You have to read it for your own self and experience your own reaction.