Public Program- Ezra Greenspan

Lectures and Performances
Thursday, April 22, 2010 - 7:30pm

"Researching and Writing African American Biography: The Life of William Wells Brown"
by Ezra Greenspan

William Wells Brown: A Reader, book cover

This illustrated talk combines two stories: a narrative of the life of the most prolific and pioneering African American writer of the nineteenth century, and an account of a biographer's journey to present that life to a twenty-first-century public.

Brown personified the American Dream. Born into slavery and locked into illiteracy until his escape at age 19, he became an internationally renowned antislavery activist-writer who resided and traveled widely across the northern United States and the British Isles. Over the course of a life devoted to personal and collective reform, he wrote a series of remarkable books that includes the first African American novel, the first printed African American play, the first African American travelog, the first African American panorama displayed in Britain, and the first history of African American military service in the Civil War. This talk will present this remarkable life story via an account of a year-long, ongoing research journey to retrace the course of Brown's life and gather material for a comprehensive biography.

Ezra Greenspan is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Chair in Humanities and professor of English at Southern Methodist University. He is a literary and cultural historian who studies the history of print culture in its various manifestations in the United States. Dr. Greenspan is interested, in particular, in the central activities (such as writing, reading, printing, and publishing) and institutions (such as libraries, bookstores, and schools) of American print culture. Among his many publications are: George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher (Penn State Press, 2000), Walt Whitman's Song of Myself: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition (Routledge Press, 2004), William Wells Brown: A Reader (University of Georgia Press, 2008) and Walt Whitman and the American Reader (Cambridge University Press, 1990). He is the co-editor of the journal Book History the annual journal of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, Inc. (SHARP). Book Historyis devoted to every aspect of the history of the book, broadly defined as the history of the creation, dissemination, and the reception of script and print. Currently Professor Greenspan is in residence at the American Antiquarian Society as the Mellon Distinguished Scholar where he is working on a comprehensive literary and cultural biography of William Wells Brown.

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