Department or Program

African American Studies

Second Department or Program



This thesis examines Helene Cooper’s memoir, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood (2008), and the transformation of her identities through migrations within the black Atlantic. This work investigates her text from three perspectives: the body of the text, the underlying implied subtext, and its framing by the paratext, which includes its promotion by the Starbucks Coffeehouse chain. Cooper’s text chronicles her struggle to navigate a complex course of self-discovery. This thesis employs Paul Gilroy’s model of the black Atlantic, because his work analyzes the movement and transformation of black bodies and their identifications through intricate and convoluted routes of capture, transportation, enslavement, migration, and return. Cooper’s memoir begins with her complacent self-acceptance of her status as an Americo-Liberian elite. She flees to the United States and there she must learn to negotiate the multiple identities of an African immigrant, African American, and American citizen. She uses her memory and the history of her ancestral lineage, which encompases three migrations: first, the capture of her forebears in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; second, the nineteenth-century relocation of her free-black ancestors as a part of the American Colonization Society’s founding of the Republic of Liberia; and finally, her flight back to the United States after the Liberian military coup and subsequent civil war during the 1980s. By applying Gilroy’s model of the black Atlantic to Cooper’s complex routes of migration, this work will answer questions about the multiple, various, and shifting identities of people of African descent.

Level of Access

Restricted: Campus/Bates Community Only Access

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages




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