Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Raj Chetty

Second Advisor

Dohra Ahmad

Third Advisor

Shanté Paradigm Smalls


Reaching in & Speaking Out examines gender, race, and class in the poetry of Una Marson (1905-1965) and Louise Bennett (1919-2006). This dissertation takes a multidisciplinary approach to these two Jamaican women’s groundbreaking poetry, prioritizing the emotional stakes and historical traditions connected to their words through the varied performances within their poetry. This means keeping in mind each poet’s individual influences and vulnerabilities, based on their background, education, and social standing, and identifying how those aspects merge with their social climate and become visible through each poet’s work.

Bennett’s and Marson’s poetic style, delivery, and public personas differ greatly: while Marson’s poems are primarily written in a standardized (or “Queen’s”) English, Bennett’s poetry is delivered in Jamaican Creole English / Patwa (Patois). This dissertation nonetheless positions Marson’s and Bennett’s work together, in relation to each other, as two of Jamaica’s literary mothers. It engages their poetry to underscore the work they did to push against colonial structures and write themselves into the colonial and postcolonial landscape. They defined themselves in public spaces in a way that made them foundational voices. While centered on Bennett’s and Marson’s poetry, Reaching in & Speaking Out investigates the ways their works have paved the way for Jamaican women writers who continue to confront European imperialism, white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy.

This project unveils the nuanced ways Bennett and Marson used language and their experiences as black women to expose limiting social constructs directly related to colonialism and patriarchy. I draw upon postcolonial, black performance, and black feminist theories to study Bennett’s and Marson’s poetry as performances that are born and reborn through interaction with their respective audiences. My project thus contributes to bridging the gap in studies focused on Caribbean poetics and performance. I value the differences in the authors’ poetic styles and delivery, recognizing the diversity in black women's expression while investigating their shared histories and cultural practices. This dissertation shows how Bennett’s popular creative catalogue and Marson’s trailblazing literary work expanded the visibility of black women’s humanity at a time when, globally, spaces where black women’s voices could be heard were limited.

Available for download on Saturday, September 03, 2022