Not until the end of the 20th century did scholars begin to look at early African American print culture in the depth it deserves. A story painfully intertwined with the transatlantic slave system and racism, early black print engagement combined, from its beginnings, responses to white aggression and a powerful set of individual and communal desires to read about, record, and, via print, share truths of black life in the United States. Some of the first creators of black print in the United States, from the authors of the earliest slave narratives to poet Phillis Wheatley, had to think through questions of individual and communal identity vis-à-vis emerging American socio-political structures and find ways to ensure control over their own voices in a white-dominated culture that tried to exclude, use, or abuse those voices. But early black print culture is not simply the story of a single genre like the slave narrative or of exceptional individuals like Wheatley. Rather, it is also the story of organizational print tied to churches, conventions, and activist groups. It is as well the story of a diverse range of modes, from the rich pamphleteering tradition (perhaps most excitingly expressed by David Walker) to early black periodicals like those edited by Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell. Especially after 1830, it also became the story of a range of black women (from Maria Stewart and Jarena Lee to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper), of African Americans across the North (and occasionally in the midst of the slave South), and of an increasing number of formats, genres, and approaches. And it became a story of how black activists might interact (in print and beyond) with white antislavery activists, recognizing both shared and different goals and philosophies as they attempted to fight not only for emancipation but for broader civil rights.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
For half of his nearly sixty-year writing career, John Rechy was recognized primarily for his contributions to homosexual literature in the United States, even as from the beginning of that career he consistently cast his major protagonists as young men of mixed ethnicity, part-Mexican and part-Scottish, hailing like him from the border city of El Paso, Texas. As the fields of queer and US Latinx literary studies emerged in the 1980s, critics and scholars began to study the important intersectionalities of Rechy’s multiple identities more explicitly and intentionally, and that attention has been sustained ever since, leading to a significant rethinking of earlier responses to Rechy’s literary work, and a significant opening of the possible viable readerly approaches to Rechy’s entire writing career. Underrepresented in this matrix of critical approaches toward Rechy’s work that favor issues of identity, however, is a more direct, committed interest in describing the specifically literary, and aesthetic, aspects of Rechy’s contributions to the cultural traditions to which he matters, regardless of whether that interest foregrounds or not the understandably compelling factors of identity (ethnic, gender, sexual, class, geographic, etc.) that drive so much extant Rechy criticism. That critical project will surely benefit from a greater attention to, for example, Rechy’s experiments with form, style, and the materiality of print across the six decades of his career, very likely discovering there that those experiments can open alternative doors to understanding not only Rechy’s artistry, but also the unique qualities of his queerness, and the unique qualities of his latinidad.