Zong_coverZong! is NourbeSe Philip’s most recent book of poetry. Published by Weslyan University Press, and by The Mercury Press in Canada, this extended poetry cycle is based on a legal decision, at the end of the eighteenth century, related to the murder of Africans on board a slave ship.

A haunting lifeline between archive and memory, law and poetry

In November, 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that some 150 Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect insurance monies. Relying entirely on the words of the legal decision Gregson vs Gilbert—the only extant public document related to the massacre of these African slaves—Zong! tells the story that cannot be told yet must be told. Equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, and chant, Zong! excavates the legal text. Memory, history, and law collide and metamorphose into the poetics of the fragment. Through the innovative use of fugal and counterpointed repetition, Zong! becomes an anti-narrative lament that stretches the boundaries of the poetic form, haunting the spaces of forgetting and mourning the forgotten.

While still unpublished, an early version of one poem was published in Facture, four poems, along with an introduction, were published in Fascicle and two poems were published in boundary 2.



A dramatized reading of this new poem cycle, was workshoped and presented at Toronto Harbourfront as part of “rock.paper.sistahz” in April 2006.

This production was directed by Diane Roberts with actors Andrea Henry, Andy Marshall, Lili Francks and Xuan Fraser. Yvette Martin was the stage manager with Natalie Wood and Mark Prince as contributing artists.

Event Brochure


a dramatized reading



by M.NourbeSe Philip
In 1781 the captain of the slave ship, Zong, murders, by drowning, one hundred and fifty Africans so as to collect insurance monies. Through fragments of voices, shreds of memory and shards of silence, Zong! unravels the story that can only be told by not telling.
workshop dir. Diane Roberts

April 13, 2006, 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre