Elizabeth McHenry is Professor in the English Department at New York University, where she also serves as the department chair. She holds a B.A. from Columbia and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her research and teaching focus on African American literature and the various histories of Black print culture. She is especially interested in mining the archives of black print to uncover the lost, forgotten, or overlook traces of African American literary history and using these to piece together the context in which literary texts were produced, distributed, and read.
Her first book, Forgotten Readers (2002), examines the long history of African Americans as readers in the context of their organized literary practices. The book expands our definition of literacy and urges of us think about literature as broadly as it was conceived of in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.
Her second book, titled To Make Negro Literature (2021), returns again to the archives to examine a variety of projects and conditions of authorship that have gone dismissed or largely unnoticed in traditional accounts of African American literary history. By turning our critical attention away from the usual markers of literary achievement—known authors and traditionally published works of poetry and fiction—she illuminates a series of texts, projects and literary practitioners that make visible the unsettledness of the category of black literature at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.
Both of these books were awarded the DeLong Book History Book Prize, and To Make Negro Literature was also named the co-winner of the 2023 St. Louis Mercantile Library prize. McHenry serves as a co-editor (along with David Kazanjian and Priscilla Wald) of the New York University Press series “America in the Long 19th Century.”