This fall I’m giving three talks, and I’m curious and
interested in each one for different reasons.
The PublicsLab at The Graduate Center invited me to share my thinking about what it means to participate in national discussions about equity and diversity. I’ve been thinking about what’s missing in the conversations sparked whenever a white professor faces criticism for using racist language for pedagogical reasons. I’ve been thinking about this so much that I had to stop writing on the book (THE BOOK) one morning and open a new screen. I know I’m on to something because I banged out about 1,000 pretty good words on it in about an hour, and then went right back to THE BOOK. My talk (September 27th) is titled: “Whiteness as an Institution: Publics and Pedagogies” and is based on those 1,000 words. I will also lead a workshop with the Mellon Humanities Public Fellows: “Public Writing and the Early Career Scholar.”
I’ll give a lecture (open to the public) from THE BOOK as part of the University of Georgia’s Colloquium in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Literature. The sugar will be there (always), but I’m also ready to make more explicit connections using eighteenth-century texts and their connection to material culture. The first part of the talk’s title “for dead weight” comes from a pamphlet I read about tariffs, slavery, and East India vs. West India sugar.
The Aphra Behn/Frances Burney society is meeting at Auburn University for its biennial conference, and I’ve been asked to deliver a keynote address. The conference theme is Public Good(s), and I’m curious to see how my thoughts about this coalesce for this particular group of scholars. I’ve been working at the talk (this is different than working on the talk) since Emily Friedman’s intriguing invitation, and I know how I want the conferees to feel during my address (as already part of the various notions of publics) and what I would like for them to see (I mean this quite literally). It’s a huge responsibility to take up such a theme, and I’ve been thinking of Saree Makdisi’s keynote at the “Resistance in the Spirit of Romanticism” conference I attended last year. He pushed us to examine the role we think our work plays in our politics and where that politics can and cannot be located. So, while my talk will be based on the work I’m doing for THE BOOK, it’s also aiming to think more broadly about the politics of my work and what the attention paid to work like mine suggests about the field and cultural landscapes.
I was away for a month, and it was good. I’m back in the classroom in a few weeks after a spring term sabbatical. Before I left I took every single postcard and note off my door and left a sticky note with “see you in September” on it (it was a whole mood). My friend designed a lovely poster listing for my office hours I’ll keep on my door as much for me as for my students. Devoney Looser and I spent wonderful time together at the International Conference on Romanticism and she gave me a bit of Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy I’ll also put that up as a reminder of what matters and how:
like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!”
Here’s a list of primary texts I’ve taught (in whole or excerpted) in my British abolitionist literature courses. I’ve also included a list of lectures (I’ll add to this over time) and a bibliography.* I’ll be updating this over time, I’m sure. I hope it’s useful!
Adams-Campbell, Melissa M. New World Courtships: Transatlantic Alternatives to Companionate Marriage. Dartmouth College Press, 2015.
Barnett-Woods, Victoria. “Models of Morality: The Bildungsroman and Social Reform in The Female American and The Woman of Colour.” Women’s Studies 45.7 (2016): 613–23.
*Baumgartner, Barbara. “The Body as Evidence: Resistance, Collaboration, and Appropriation in “the History of Mary Prince””. Callaloo 24.1 (2001): 253–275.
*Boulukos, George E. “The Politics of Silence: “Mansfield Park” and the Amelioration of Slavery” Novel: A Forum on Fiction39.3 (Summer, 2006): 361-383.
Brody, Jennifer DeVere. Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture. Duke UP, 1998.
Chander, Manu. Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2017.
Dominique, Lyndon Janson. Imoinda’s Shade: Marriage and the African Woman in Eighteenth-Century British Literature, 1759–1808. Ohio State UP, 2012.
Doyle, Laura. Freedom’s Empire:
Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940. Duke UP,
Echeverri, Marcela. “‘Enraged to
the limit of despair’: Infanticide and Slave Judicial Strategies in Barbados,
1788-98.” Slavery and Abolition 30.3 (2009): 403-426.
Ferguson, Moira. Colonialism and Gender from Mary Wollstonecraft to Jamaica Kincaid. Columbia University Press, New York 1993.
to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834. Routledge
*Fielder, Brigitte. “The Woman of Colour and Black Atlantic Movement.” Women’s Narratives of the Early Americas and the Formation of Empire, edited by Mary McAleer Balkun and Susan C. Imbarrato, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, 171-85.
Freedgood, Elaine. The Ideas in
Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel. U of Chicago P, 2010.
Fuentes, Marisa J. Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women,
Violence, and the Archive. U of Pennsylvania, P, 2016.
*Gikandi, Simon. Slavery and the Culture of Taste. Princeton: U of Princeton, P, 2011.
Green, Katherine Soba. The
Courtship Novel, 1740-1820: A Feminized Genre. Kentucky UP, 1991.
Guyatt, Mary. “The Wedgewood Slave
Medallion: Values in Eighteenth-Century Design.” Journal of Design History
13. 2 (2000): 93-105.
Hall, Kim. Things of Darkness:
Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Cornell UP, 1995.
Hartman, Saidiya. Lose
Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: MacMillan,
*Holcomb, Julie. Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy. Cornell UP, 2016.
Kaplan, Amy, “Manifest
Domesticity.” American Literature 70.3 (1998): 581-606.
Kitson, Peter J. “‘Bales of Living
Anguish’: Representations of Race and the Slave in Romantic Writing.” ELH
67. 2 (2000): 515-37.
Kowaleski-Wallace, Beth. “Women,
China, and Consumer Culture in Eighteenth-Century England.” Eighteenth-Century
Kriz, Dian Kay. Slavery, Sugar,
and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies 1700-1840.
Yale UP, 2008.
*Lee, Debbie. Slavery and the Romantic Imagination. U of Pennsylvania P, 2002.
Malchow, Howard L. Gothic Images
of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Stanford UP, 1996.
Mintz, Sydney. Sweetness and
Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
Murray, Julie. “The Country and
the City and the Colony in The Woman of Colour.” Lumen: Selected Proceedings
from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 33 (2014) 87-99.
Nussbaum, Felicity A. The Limits of the Human Fictions of Anomaly, Race and Gender in the Long Eighteenth Century. Cambridge UP, 2003.
*Pethers, Matthew J. “Talking Books, Selling Selves: Rereading the Politics of Equiano’s Interesting Narrative” American Studies 48. 1(2007):101-34.
*Ross, Marlon. “The Race of/in Romanticism: Notes Towards a Critical Race Theory.” Race, Romanticism, and the Atlantic. Ed. Paul Youngquist. London: Routledge, 2013.
*Salih, Sara. “Review of The Woman of Colour. A Tale.” Eighteenth Century Fiction 21.3 (2009): 448-50.
*Schneider, Robert “’He says he is free’: Narrative Fragments and Self-Emancipation in West Indian Runaway Advertisements.” European Romantic Review. 29:4, 435-447.
*Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke UP, 2016.
Sinanan, Kerry. “The Feelings of
an Officer: John Stedman in Suriname.” The British Abroad Since the
Eighteenth Century, Volume 2, edited by Martin Farr and Xavier Guégan,
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
–“Too Good to Be True?
Hannah More, Authenticity, Sincerity and Evangelical Abolitionism.” Romanticism,
Sincerity and Authenticity, edited by Tim Milnes and Kerry Sinanan,
Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. Racial
Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York UP, 2012.
Sasha. Contesting Bodies: Pregnancy,
Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica. U of Pennsylvania P, 2017.
Walvin, James. Slavery in Small
Things: Slavery and Modern Cultural Habits. Oxford, Johny Wiley and Sons,
Youngquist, Paul. Monstrosities:
Bodies and British Romanticism. U of Minnesota P, 2003.
I’m going to leave that sentence on its own because it’s just so pretty. It’s one of my favorite sentences, somewhere between “turns out you were right” and “here are your pancakes.”
My last sabbatical was in 2011, and I was working primarily on Written/Unwritten. This time around I’ll be working on a book about anti-slavery/abolitionist literature in romantic/regency-era literature. I’m nervous about it. I stopped working on a different book because this one felt more urgent. My gut tells me it was the right decision, but I won’t really feel solid about it until I have some of the usual signs that a book will be a book. Some of the pressure is because while this is my second book, it’s the first book I’m writing in my primary field, and that feels a bit odd. I know I’m kind of out of order with my publications, but then maybe if the academy wasn’t so persistently hostile to black academics, particularly women…anyway. It’s not exactly “Imposter Syndrome” that I feel, but I’ll feel better when it goes from “in progress” to “under review.” I’m also eager to write more fully about what I reflected on in my Jane Austen piece for The Atlantic and wrote about for Lapham’s Quarterly.
In the spring I’ll be giving two talks from book chapters. P19 has invited me to give a talk on February 28th in Philadelphia.
I’ll be sharing work from my chapter on The Woman of Colour, A Tale, Mansfield Park, and “Belle.” The talk (and maybe the book chapter) is titled: “I yield up my independence”: Marriage and Shades of Mansfield. This chapter is based on work I did for two British Women Writers Conference papers (one quite good, the other quite meh). It’s taken me a few times through the Woman of Colour to work out why I think it matters to this discussion, and I’m glad to write about Austen in this context. In my early drafting, I’m struck by how much I’ve missed in “Belle” because, like so many of us, I’m still processing what it means to see women of color featured at the center of stories about nineteenth-century England. The fact that John Davinier doesn’t seem to have lips is also distracting.
After a pretty good blog post, a hot mess of a creative non-fiction essay (unpublished), and two conference papers I’m quite proud of, I’m finally working out how Kara Walker’s sugar projects fit into how I read abolitionist discourse and material culture.
I wrestled with this in a lecture I gave last fall where I felt more wobbly about the implications of the work than I realized. So, I’m incredibly excited to keynote April 6th at St. John’s University Graduate English Conference: “Forms of Justice: Reflections on Writing, Creativity and Social Change.” The title of the talk is ‘a violent effervescence will ensue’: Sugar, Gender, and Power. Last spring, I spent time in the Historical Medical Library in Philly and read eighteenth-century books about sugar production. That’s where I think I’ll start. The juxtaposition between how we get sugar and what it’s used for, materially and linguistically, is central to the book.
Emily Rohrbach is the principal organizer for the 2019 International Conference on Romanticism in Manchester, UK, and I’ll be there. The seminars look intriguing, and I hope folks will participate in mine. If you spend time with me in real life, you know I’m obsessed with Wollstonecraft’s complicated politics around race, slavery, and abolition. I’m hoping for papers that push us (and me in particular) to think in very nuanced ways about the interplay between white women’s political ambition and representations of race in the nineteenth-century.
Written/Unwritten is still out there doing its thing. I’ll give two talks related to my diversity and inclusion work, both in March. My 2019 resolution is to expunge “on” from all of my titles:
Check back for more info about times and locations for these talks.
I’ve decided that I’ll feel better about writing this book if I thank folks publicly along the way. So, I’m thankful to those who have gently but firmly pushed me to think through the book I actually want to write, in the way that feels best for how I see the possible impact of my work: Kim Hall, Matt McAdam, Manu Chander, Devoney Looser, Matt Sandler, and Tina Iemma. They’ve read the proposal and a lot of the pre-writing drafting that goes into my writing. Someone recently described me as the “happiest academic in the world.” That’s not true—partly because I’m not that naïve and partly because I’m a Black woman. What is true is that I spent almost all of my pre-tenure years feeling isolated and marginalized in ways that I never imagined. To find myself post-tenure in the company of brilliant people who take time to support my writing means more than I can say. More than happy, I’m just extremely thankful.
Hope to see you in 2019. Come through, as the kids say.
Broadview Cover Woman of Colour, A Tale
Kara Walker “Afterword” 21 November 2014—17 January 2015
Sikkema Jenkins & Co New York, New York Photo: Patricia A. Matthew
I’ve been thinking a lot about Wordsworth’s sonnet “Nuns fret not” for the last three weeks, usually around 4:30 in the morning (4:38 to be exact). I’ve especially been thinking about “the weight of too much liberty” moment near the end of the poem. I’ve been thinking about weight and liberty in my writing lately—what it means to choose a specific kind of book project and what it could mean to let that go.
This moment is an interesting/unnerving chapter for me. It’s interesting (and exciting) because Written/Unwritten is taking me to places and into conversations that feel so meaningful to the work faculty of color want to do. I really couldn’t have asked for a better first year with it, and I think it will continue to do good working going forward. I know people will want to talk about it more, and I’ve figured out a good way for those conversations to be useful for faculty of color and people who really want to be their allies. But it’s also been unnerving. I’ve felt this (mostly) internal pressure to make sure it doesn’t eclipse my British lit. work. I love nineteenth-century literature, and writing a book about it actually feels quite timely to me as I see the U.S. in a very particular cultural crisis, especially as I follow the tensions between black women and white women who claim to be their allies. It feels to me that the tensions of women’s studies feminism has spilled into national discourse and debates at the same time that black artists are using the tropes unique to eighteenth and nineteenth-century culture to push back against racist structures.
It will sound impossibly earnest and quite yawpish (in the “Dead Poet’s Society” sense of the word), but I feel I MUST write this book, and I can’t wait to write it. I had a conversation about it a few weeks ago, and in the notes I took to prepare for the meeting the first thing I wrote was “I want to write a book that everyone wants to read.” I’ve never felt that way before. I didn’t even feel that way about Written/Unwritten. I did that book for black women and other faculty of color (not a strategy I’d recommend, by the way), and it’s been because of the grace and openness of a lot of people who saw a broader community for it that it’s being read so much beyond the original audience I imagined.
I feel this book differently and babble about it (that’s the only word for it) to my friends and colleagues when it comes to mind (pretty much all the time). When there’s no one else around, I talk to myself.
Then, in the middle of a long week in Texas, I had an invitation to write for a publication I admire and longingly read. I’d given a talk in Denton Wednesday and was sitting in a hotel room in El Paso on Thursday, putting the finishing touches on a conference paper while trying to revise the book proposal, when the invitation showed up. I knew pretty instantly what I wanted to write about but also was sad to realize I will always have to choose between two modes and, as I’ve come to understand, two audiences. The invitation didn’t come from an academic journal, and so I was almost tempted to put it on the back burner. Almost. I decided to fold it into my writing schedule even as it meant I was keeping up this tug-of-war about my voice and some “audience.”
This has me thinking more carefully about the discipline of writing and how academic writing disciplines me. By this I don’t mean the intellectual back -and-forth between peers asking one another good, if sometimes tough, questions about the work we do; I am talking about the discipline that demands a certain performance of an argument.
So in the middle of this process, in this prison I’ve embraced, I’ve been waking up at 4:38 in the morning, wondering about how I write and for whom.
I am a (fairly) disciplined writer. I have also been (fairly) disciplined.
The proposal I ended up with was a disciplined one, but when I was asked if the book in the proposal was the book I really wanted to write I was stunned by the ferocity of my ”no!” And surprised by how little I’d understood my own ambitions for this book. If you’ve met me, you know that lack of confidence is not something I seem to struggle with, but if you know me you know I don’t always trust that what I want to say or write a) actually needs to be said or written and b) that I’m the person to say or write it. This can be a good thing if it keeps me from being strident or glib. But it was getting in the way of my vision for this book.
So I went back to the drawing board. I mean that almost literally. I got out a piece of white paper and drew boxes and then arrows and phrases and then pulled prose out of that. I’m still doing that. It’s been harder to restructure the book, but I think that’s mostly because I’m in such a hurry to write it. I’ve also learned that the Written/Unwritten work is so outward facing that I really need the kind of internal, more quiet work of this book—reading archival notes, thinking about images, figuring out the textual habits of abolitionist writers. After a public talk on Written/Unwritten I really just need to sit in a café with a pencil and paper and notes.
What I thought I needed to work out is what it means to write for my discipline, and then, as I was scratching out notes about why Austen may have been wise not to write more explicitly about the slave trade, that writing 101 command “write what you know” came to me, and I wrote a note to myself: “write how you know.” What I should have written is “write how YOU know.”
It’s a pretty terrifying thought. A whole book writing how I want to write sounds lovely. I’m not even sure what this means or if this is what we all do, and it just feels important to me because my second book will be my first in some key ways. So I don’t know.
I know it’s unnerving.
I am a (fairly) disciplined writer. I have also been (fairly) disciplined.
So we’ll see. I spent the better part of two days just staring at a book cover and jotting down what it shook loose in my brain. I’ll start reading again soon, but I’ve been seeing what comes to me unprompted by the discipline. I’m curious to know what I’ll pull out of these last years of reading, teaching, and talking about British abolitionist lit. I’ve already let go of the disciplinary boundaries of “R”omanticism because they’re not really useful for the trajectory of this book. And I’m less interested in the chapter structures I was raised to emulate. I’m curious to spend time this week looking at the discipline proposal I originally wrote to see what is packed in there that might be buried under the performance of my arguments. I found “brief solace” in this performance, in this discipline proposal, and it is written in a way that I write, but it’s not necessarily written how I write. That’s the turn I’m planning to make.
I was asked to write an essay for The Atlantic reflecting on Jane Austen’s bicentennial, and I was so glad to do it. I have a complicated relationship with Austen, but I’ve made my peace with it, primarily because I read her with such great students. So, I’m happy with her and about how she’s been celebrated. What I’ve not been so happy about is the trajectory of my research agenda. I started two book projects at once—a collection that turned out to be Written/Unwritten and a book on the history of the novel. Written/Unwritten found a publisher first, but it also felt more urgent. When I finished it, I planned to turn back to the book on the history of the novel, but that work felt perfunctory, like a performance of what I thought I should write back when I was a graduate school. I gave it a year, but I kept saying I was writing the book on the history of the novel but then giving conference papers on British abolitionist lit. My thought was that I’d write the book I was supposed to write and then write the book I wanted to write, one about abolitionist literature, genre, sugar, motherhood, amelioration, and sugar some more. I wanted to write about sugar bowls and gender and kept looking longingly at these tantalizing books on the subject.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written…”
There’s no one thing to point to that ended up with me in an administrator’s office explaining that I wanted to use a research grant to look in different archives for different stories about England in the nineteenth century. Seeing my students ask more questions than I have answers for in my abolitionist literature class is part of the reason. I also know the energy it takes to get a book done, and it just didn’t seem like a good idea to take that on without totally invested in the project. It also feels like I can do more to make my research matter if I take up the questions I’ll explore in this book. They haven’t gone anywhere in centuries, and now seems like the right time when more and more people are seeing what a lot of black folks have always known about race, racism, and racial violence.
It’s scary. I was sitting in an archive in April, feeling slightly nauseous about the work ahead of me. And I don’t want to be a person who quits a project half way through. I’m trusting that what people who know me well say about me is true—I’m not quick but I am very persistent. I’m also trusting that I’m a clearer writer and thinker now than I was when I planned the other book.
Of course, the moment I started working on the book proposal, all of the research I’ve been doing was relevant to this project but in a new way. And at least one of those former book chapters is on its way to being transformed into a journal article—where I suspect it will actually have more impact. Somewhere between the conference-length essay and the 9,000-word chapter draft is a stunning, erudite consideration of Mary Shelley, Felicia Hemans, Genre, and Byron. I’ll find it. People have been interested in seeing me write more things like this Emma piece in the Toast, and I’m working on that too. It’s hard in a different way, but it’s a good struggle, and I feel lucky to have people waiting to help me get it done.
This means I write more than I used to. I’ve spent most of the summer writing (that and walking off two years of stress and anxiety), reading, and putting together a research agenda that makes sense. I’m this close to finishing what will be first big journal article on British abolitionist lit, co-editing a cluster issue on abolitionist lit with Manu Chander (it’s gonna be GOOD), and balancing two different kinds of book proposals. So we’ll see. If you’re a praying person, pray for me. If you’re not and you see me in a café or bar writing, buy me a drink.
I’m so excited to be working with Manu Chander on a special journal issue.
Alterities and Abolitionist Forms: Genres of British Abolitionist Literature, 1790-1830
Essay length: 7,000—8,000 words
Abstracts due: 31 March 2017
Essays due: 1 November 2017
The conversation about literature that circulated in response to Britain’s debates about the slave trade has moved beyond considering Equiano’s Interesting Narrative as the representative text of British abolitionist discourse. Debbie Lee and Peter Kitson’s eight-volume Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period (1999) was followed by projects that not only upended considerations of the Romantic canon as a whole but also made clear how deeply ingrained questions of national identity and race were to the major figures of the period. Lee’s Slavery and the Romantic Imagination (2002), Paul Youngquist’s Race, Romanticism and the Atlantic (2013) and Evan Gottleib’s Global Romanticism (2014) along with others have prompted questions of alterity, national identity, and genre that underpin Romantic-era literature.
As part of the current critical discourse that takes up questions of alterity and globalism in the wake of newly discovered abolitionist texts and lines of inquiry, we seek essays for a special journal issue that invites contributors to engage collectively with “abolitionist forms”–literary genres and formal innovation, as well as cultural formations (societies, organizations, coteries, etc.), and diverse, non-verbal means of communicating about slavery and emancipation (material goods, visual texts).
Although we are open to essays that take up issues and ideas related to the texts, figures, and movements associated with the period, we are particularly interested in essays that take up the following questions,
Can we speak of abolition as genre—as a way of producing/marketing literature, a series of expectations, a discrete set of purposes, styles, forms that cross traditional generic boundaries?
In what ways did abolition inspire or require new forms of literary communication, or revisions of traditional generic categories?
Where do form and content intersect in abolitionist texts?
How did the cultural limits placed on white women writers shape their complicated investment in the abolitionist movement?
How did abolition contribute to the formation of social groups in which historically marginalized subjects were given voice?
To what extent can we speak of abolition in the singular and what are the limits of history that can be exposed/transcended by theory/literature?
How does the use of new technology to uncover/recover under examined sources and the proliferation of online archives shape discourses around raced bodies, particularly for novices?
Editors Manu Samriti Chander is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers-Newark. His research interests include British Romanticism, colonialism and postcolonialism, and aesthetic theory. He is the author of Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century, forthcoming from Bucknell University Press, and the editor of Egbert Martin: Scriptology (Caribbean Press, 2014). He currently is developing a second book project, Art Fights: Aesthetic Controversy and the Lessons of Modernity, which pursues a cultural trajectory from poetic works of Wordsworth and Keats, to the novels of Mark Twain and Vladimir Nabokov, and the films of D.W. Griffith and Stanley Kubrick.
Patricia A. Matthew is an associate professor of English at Montclair State University. She focuses on the history of the novel, Romantic era-fiction and abolitionist literature, and diversity in higher education. She is writing a book about representations of the body and the discourse of disease and illness in Romantic-era fiction. She is the co-editor with Miriam Wallace of a special issue for Romantic Pedagogy Commons (“Novel Prospects: Teaching Romantic-Era Fiction”) and has published essays and reviews in Women’s Writing, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, and the Keats-Shelley Journal. She is the editor of Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and has published essays and books reviews on diversity in higher education in PMLA, The ADE Bulletin, Signs: Journalof Women in Culture and Society, The New Inquiry and The Atlantic.