ENGL-579 Staging Anti-Slavery
Fall for 2011-2012
What happens when we approach abolitionist literature—fiction and non-fiction—as performance? Late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century black and white women developed sophisticated strategies for performing their abolitionist activism in poems, short stories, essays, and longer narratives, as well as in plays and speeches. We’ll examine these strategies for defining the relationship between the self and the other, the citizen and sufferer, in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women’s reform literature. We’ll begin by studying the “performative” categories through which we traditionally understand the self—categories such as race, gender, and American-ness—analyzing the way in which these categories depend upon repeated behaviors that, paradoxically, are never duplicated. We’ll focus on the work of black and white female abolitionists from 1770 to 1865, analyzing their disparate avenues toward publication as well as their actual anti-slavery essays, speeches, letters, poems, short stories, plays, slave narratives, and autobiographical novels. How did these women perform their abolitionist activism, in print and onstage, and what can we learn from their practices? Our theoretical readings and archival adventures will help us illuminate the women’s performances and their legacies in a world that still sustains the global trafficking of persons and fosters what many call the “new anti-slavery.” Our readings will include works by Phillis Wheatley, Suzanna Rowson, Elizabeth Chandler, Sarah Forten, Maria W. Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and a host of lesser-known anti-slavery lecturers and essayists.