Autumn Womack (Princeton): "Reprinting the Past/Reordering Black Social Life"
Monday, September 21, 2020, 5:15pm, via Zoom
This talk begins to recover the cultural and political history of Arno Press’s landmark republication project, The American Negro: His History and Literature. Within the context of the “reprint revolution,” the period when large publishing houses clamored to publish African American texts, many of which had long been out of print, and with the backing of The New York Times, Arno Press reissued hundreds of titles by and about Black life. While these titles have come to shape the contours of African American literary scholarship, the projects political and cultural context remain woefully understudied. Knitting together personal correspondence, advertisements, and reviews, this talk situates the Arno Press endeavor with a longer history of Black print culture in which historical life was harnessed in the name of imagining new political futures. Yet, within the context of a late 1960s “reprint revolution,” I show how the Black past was summoned in the service of a liberal fantasy of assimilation, social management, and racial reform. Drawing a line of connection between the technology of reprinting and its ideological workings, this essay calls for a critical consideration of the labor that we invite Black texts to perform in the service of particular political visions.
About our speaker:
Autumn Womack is assistant professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton University, where she specializes in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century African American literary culture. Her writing has been published in books and journals, including Black Camera: An International Film Journal, Women & Performance, J19, American Literary History, the Paris Review of Books, and LA Review of Books. She is the author of Un-disciplining Data: The Aesthetics of Racial Knowledge at the Turn of the 20th Century, currently under contract with the University of Chicago Press. She is currently at work on a second book project that explores the politics of circulation that brought many 19th century Black texts back into the literary marketplace in mid-twentieth century.
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The Workshop in the History of Material Texts is supported by the School of Arts and Sciences through the Department of English and hosted by the Penn Libraries. The co-directors of the seminar are Professor Zachary Lesser (English), Jerry Singerman (Penn Press), and John Pollack (Kislak Center, Penn Libraries).
Associated with the workshop is the book series in Material Texts published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which includes many monographs that have emerged from presentations given at the workshop over the years.
For more information, please contact Philip Mogen.