Prospects for 19th-Century Black Literature: Recovery and Beyond (Sept 15, 2011)

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C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists; Berkeley, California, April 12-15, 2012
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Prospects for Nineteenth-Century Black Literature: Recovery and Beyond

In the collection Beyond Douglass: New Perspectives on Early African-American Literature, editors Michael J. Drexler and Ed White interrogate Frederick Douglass's towering presence in African American literary studies by calling for scholars and students to engage the fuller range of early black literature. Drexler and White are only the latest among a number of critics who note that even when archival research expands the number of nineteenth-century African American texts readily available in print and digital form, literary histories and syllabi still often privilege a select core of prominent black writers, including Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. Moreover, as Frances Smith Foster and John Ernest propose, much of early African American literature remains to be uncovered—often in black periodicals—before scholars can devise more capacious, informed studies of the period.

In concert with the C19 conference theme, "Prospects: A New Century," this proposed panel evaluates current and prospective developments in nineteenth-century African American literary studies by asking, "What happens after texts are recovered?" What factors explain why some texts, such as Jacobs's Incidents, are happily canonized while others—including many black women's volumes reprinted in the 1990s Schomburg Library collection—languish in relative neglect even after being reprinted? What are the challenges and successes of engaging recovered texts in scholarship and in the classroom? What interpretative paradigms help us to situate newly republished works, such as J. McHenry Jones's 1896 novel Hearts of Gold and the works of James Whitfield, in literary history?

We invite contributions that address the politics of editing and (re)publishing recovered works, pedagogical and critical approaches to underappreciated nineteenth-century black texts, and reconceptualizations of black literary history. Papers that resituate the recently reissued works of Julia C. Collins, J. McHenry Jones, Sutton Griggs, James Whitfield, Albery Whitman and the lesser studied black women writers of the Schomburg Library collection (Amelia Johnson, Katherine Tillman, Octavia Rodgers, Effie Smith, Olivia Bush-Banks) and others are especially welcome.

Please submit abstracts of 300-500 words and a c.v. or short bio by September 15, 2011 to Andreá N. Williams, Department of English, The Ohio State University,