Modern writers learn from the past by reading works written by authors of that particular era. Contemporary African-American writers gain knowledge and insight into the horrendous and sometimes harmonious conditions that plagued Africans during slavery and the slave trade. By reading the actual words, thoughts, and feelings of these enslaved Africans, modern writers receive information from the perspective of the victimized. Lucille Clifton's "slaveship" is a vivid example of a contemporary writer borrowing from the past to depict another account of the slave trade. The fact that Clifton's father told her stories about her family's struggle and she, herself, traced her lineage back to Dahomey, West Africa helped to impact the tone, ideas, and imagery used in her poem. Although "slaveship" is not written by someone who has experienced slavery herself, it does use similar elements found in Olaudah Equiano's Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley's "On Being Brought from Africa to America".
Clifton's "slaveship" begins with the image of people tightly packed and close together in the bottom of a ship. The narrator says that they were "loaded like spoons into the belly of Jesus" (lines 1-2). Later in the poem, the narrator describes being "chained to the heart of the Angel" (line 8). Equiano also speaks of the crowded conditions he faced on his journey to America. He states that he "was soon put down under the decks" (p 157) where "this wretched situation was again aggravated by the gallings of chains" (p 159). The human cargo on these slave ships endured weeks and months of dreadful and disgusting odors as a result of these cramped conditions. Clifton's slav...
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...Equiano at the end of Chapter Two. He says, "O, ye nominal Christians might not an African ask you, learned this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto men as you would men should do unto you" (p 161).
In order to give an accurate depiction of life during the Atlantic Slave Trade, contemporary African ‚American writers must research and read to find out exactly how life was for those enslaved. The opinions and thoughts of those who endured and survived this wretched time are valuable pieces of information about what was happening. Modern writers, such as Lucille Clifton, adapt from previous writers. Without having lived during that particular time, modern African-American writers must rely on past authors and their knowledge of human nature to put forth accurate stories with the purpose of educating and informing today's readers about America's ugly history.
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