Derrick Spires (Cornell): "Aliened American Women: Tracing Fanny Homewood and Pseudonymity in the Black Press"
Monday, October 5, 2020, 5:15pm, via Zoom
This talk outlines preliminary research on women correspondents in Aliened American (1853-1854?)—Lucie Stanton (Day), Mary Frances Vashon (Colder) (aka “Fanny Homewood”), “Maria” “Becky,” “Ida” and “Nancy”—as a way to understand pseudonymous correspondences as a cultural phenomenon in mid-nineteenth-century Black newspapers and Black women’s intellectual history. Though we only have a single issue of the Aliened American, commentary on this collective in other newspapers like Frederick Douglass’s Paper offers a tantalizing trace of an inter-periodical cohort and a cultural movement in early Black print. Black writers in the 1850s in particular, I argue, used pseudonymity as a way to create and signal belonging to what was becoming a well-defined and interconnected print community within single newspapers and between newspapers. They saw their pseudonymous writing as a craft that should be as entertaining and creative as it was informative, and they assumed a readership of regular followers. Tracking the print career of women like Vashon (Colder) provides one entrée into this print landscape of aesthetic play and social and political networking—something we can think of as early Black social media.
About our Speaker:
Derrick R. Spires is Associate Professor of English and affiliate faculty in American Studies, Visual Studies, and Media Studies at Cornell University. He specializes in early African American and American print culture, citizenship studies, and African American intellectual history. His first book, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), won the 2020 Bibliographical Society/St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize and the 2019 M/MLA Book Prize. He is working on a second book, Serial Blackness: Periodical Literature and Early African American Literary Histories in the Long Nineteenth Century, that takes up seriality as both the core of early African American literary history and a heuristic for understanding blackness in the long nineteenth century. He serves on the editorial boards of American Literature and Early American Literature. Spires’s work on early African American politics and print culture has appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, American Literary History, and edited collections on early African American print culture, time and American literature, and the Colored Conventions movement. His research has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Oberlin Archives, and UNCF/Mellon-Mays and Ford Foundations.
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