Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture

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The Strangers Book: The Human of African American Literature

Lloyd Pratt

Thursday, March 23, 2023, at 2pm ET

Approximately 60 minutes. This virtual program is free, but registration is required. You will be sent an email with a link and instructions on how to join the program upon registration. Closed captioning is available as an option via Zoom’s live transcription.

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The year 1845 saw the publication of two key texts in the African American literary tradition: Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, American Slave, Written by Himself and a collection of francophone poetry published in New Orleans by a group of free men of color and titled Les Cenelles: Choix des poésies indigènes. In The Strangers Book: The Human of African American Literature, Lloyd Pratt tells the story of how these two volumes were part of a political and aesthetic project dedicated to creating spaces—real and imaginative—that were hospitable to “stranger humanism.” Both volumes placed literature at the center of the project of communicating the experiences of people of African descent to a wider world. At the same time, both volumes made clear that certain protocols of respect and dignity were required from white readers and fellow citizens if the sense of a shared human condition was to unfold. These texts sought neither sympathy nor empathy in any simplistic sense. They suggested instead that what it means to be human is to acknowledge how limited our knowledge of other people’s experience can be and to take seriously our responsibility for learning how to both approach and respect that gap. These writers participated in a longer and larger project of thinking from a Black perspective about what it means to be “human.”

Lloyd PrattLloyd Pratt is Drue Heinz Professor of American Literature at the University of Oxford and a senior fellow at the Rothermere American Institute. He is a member of the American Antiquarian Society, a former AAS NEH and NEMLA fellow, and co-directed (with Jeannine DeLombard) the AAS Summer Seminar in the History of the Book on "The Global American South and Early American Print Culture" in 2010. In addition to The Strangers Book, he is the author of Archives of American Time: Literature and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Penn Press 2010), as well as articles and essays on the literatures of the American South, queer time, and literary formalism. He’s currently working on two projects: one an account of “other people’s Emersons” and the other a consideration of Black anti-aesthetics.

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