The prophetic poetry of slavery and its abolition
During the pitched battle over slavery in the United States, Black writers—enslaved and free—allied themselves with the cause of abolition and used their art to advocate for emancipation and to envision the end of slavery as a world-historical moment of possibility.
These Black writers borrowed from the European tradition of Romanticism—lyric poetry, prophetic visions—to write, speak, and sing their hopes for what freedom might mean. At the same time, they voiced anxieties about the expansion of global capital and US imperial power in the aftermath of slavery. They also focused on the ramifications of slavery's sexual violence. Authors like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, George Moses Horton, Albery Allson Whitman, and Joshua McCarter Simpson conceived the Civil War as a revolutionary upheaval on par with Europe's stormy Age of Revolutions. The Black Romantic Revolution proposes that the Black Romantics' cultural innovations have shaped Black radical culture to this day, from the blues and hip hop to Black nationalism and Black feminism. Their expressions of love and rage, grief and determination, dreams and nightmares, still echo into our present.
What Are People Saying
“Written with deep and layered seriousness, and a healthy willingness to provoke and play, this impressive study reads Black poetry as profoundly political and as exceeding politics. Subtly theorized, especially via Black feminist theory, and attentive to changing imperatives of political coalition building, it nevertheless keeps the poets and the poetry front and center. The old surrealist insistence that poetry can be an emancipatory and creative activity emerges here not as an injunction but as one central aspect of lived history.” David Roediger, author of How Race Survived US History