Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Matthew Hooley

Committee Member

Rhondda Thomas

Committee Member

Megan Eatman

Committee Member

Maya Hislop


In 1931, between 700 and 800 West Virginian miners died from “acute silicosis,” a lung disorder caused by prolonged exposure to silica dust. This event was dubbed “The Hawk’s Nest Tragedy.” The Hawk’s Nest Tragedy violence was best captured by Muriel Rukeyser in her collection of poems, The Book of the Dead. The poems within The Book of the Dead are separate from the perspectives of the victims who have died, but also currently serve as some of the few possible lenses for these victims to be remembered. Using Rukeyser’s work, this thesis will explore a single, central, question: How does the relationship between spectacle and slow violence help the reader interpret the politics of Rukeyser’s text? In this thesis, I engage with theorists on spectacular anti-Black violence, environmental and labor violences. I then speak to the theorists by engaging in a conversation on the role of the witness, voyeur, and spectator as defined by Saidiya Hartman and Jean-Paul Sartre; which is pertinent to a conversation on “spectacular” violence. At the conclusion, I explain how spectacular racialized violence is relevant when thinking about environmental and labor disasters like the Hawk's Nest Disaster. I will prove that the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster was not just an indiscriminate act of violence upon the poor Black community, I will show that the slow violence that was the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster was an act of spectacular violence; violence which was systemic, intentional, and repeatable.



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