This paper seeks to reckon with the entwined realities of black lives, environmental degradation, and the Anthropocene through engagement with Edward P. Jones’ 2003 novel The Known World and Kathryn Yusoff’s recent critical work on the Black Anthropocenes. Yusoff contends that, “Literally stretching black and brown bodies across the seismic fault lines of the earth, Black Anthropocenes subtend White Geology as a material stratum,” (xii). This paper will examine the ways in which Yusoff and Jones are in conversation, and try to elucidate the ways in which the Anthropocene is both built upon and a harbinger of mass death. How was/is the Anthropocene built/being built on the deaths of people of color? How was/is the Anthropocene built/being built on the death of the environment? How is the exploitation of and extraction from black bodies and the exploitation of and extraction from the natural environment intimately connected? How are both of these phenomena explored in The Known World? And in what ways do Jones and Yusoff propose to move forward in the era of global climate change?

The ultimate stakes of this reckoning are high from both a justice-oriented and an environmental standpoint. Though this paper cannot provide absolute answers, it hopes to open up discussion about what can be done, both to rectify these human wrongs and to preserve our planet in a time of unprecedented ecological death and upheaval, and to think about how Yusoff’s concept of the Black Anthropocenes may be helpful to these discussions.