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.
Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara
Hundreds of 19th-century newspapers and magazines published in the region of the US–Mexico border are housed in archival collections in Mexico and the United States, and they provide access to historical, cultural, and ideological perspectives involving two world spheres that are intimately connected. Archival collections in the following databases provide access to periodicals published in the United States as well as in Mexico: the Newspaper and Periodicals Collection at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the Readex Collection of Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808–1980; the Nettie Lee Benson Library’s microfilmed collection of 19th-century independent newspapers; the digital collection of periodicals and magazines from the Capilla Alfonsina Biblioteca Universitaria and the Biblioteca Universitaria Raúl Rangel Frias, at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León; and the EBSCO Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collections, Series 1 and 2. These collections house digitized and microfilmed newspapers that include those published in the US states of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as Mexican states such as Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The region includes areas that share not only a physical border but also a cultural memory based on the effects of historical collisions that have contributed to the formation of new meanings regarding these world spheres that can be understood as two intersecting semiotic systems that exist as a continuum. The intersection of these spaces represents the transnational aspect of periodical print culture of the late 19th century that communicates worldviews that are semiotically and ideologically heterogeneous. Indeed, cultural spaces that exist in the borderland (or that symbolic space that forms a border or frontier in a cultural sense), are semiotic realities that unfold in unpredictable and indeterminate ways as a result of historical processes. Periodical print culture produced in the border region provides access to diverse social, cultural, political, and religious perspectives. Furthermore, the history of print culture involves a process of communication of both social and cultural history. As objects of study, borderland newspapers ultimately provide the basis for understanding the circulation of ideas.
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.
The Black Arts movement heralded an important turn in the history of African American literature. Between 1965 and 1975, a loose confederation of African American poets, playwrights, artists, and intellectuals set out to remake the world in their own image. Fed up with what they considered to be the oppressive logic of Euro-American cultural standards, these practitioners theorized and executed a program of black aesthetic self-determination. Contemporary critics followed suit, emphasizing Black Arts’ conjoined investments in nationalist politics and radical poetics—the discursive level at which the movement reshaped African American letters. That remained the dominant way of understanding the movement until the early 21st century, when scholars began examining Black Arts’ publishing networks and institutions, or the material conditions for creative expression. Since then, scholars have shown how the movement’s effort to redefine the black voice was achieved through a concomitant effort to redesign the black text. Their research has pointed to the need for historicizing the politics of design in this moment of literary transformation. For Black Arts publishers, the work of photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers was important not only for bringing specific literary texts to life but for inviting everyday readers into a robust, race-affirming literary culture.
The presence (or absence) of compositional precursors and leftovers raise for critics and editors methodological, epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic questions: What gets collected and preserved? What does not—for what reasons? How can these materials be interpreted? And to what ends? A draft may refer to written materials that never attain printed form as well as early manuscript compositions and fair copies, typescripts, digital text, scribbles, doodles, leftovers, or other marginalia and extraneous materials that may or may not find their way into archives. The manuscript draft came of age following the invention of printing, although unfinished or working drafts only began to be self-consciously collected with the emergence of the state archive in the late 18th century. The draft is, therefore, intimately connected to the archival, whether the archive is taken as a material site, a discursive structure, or a depository of feeling. Any interpretation of drafts must take into account the limits and limitations of matter including the bare fact of a draft’s material existence or its absence. In the 20th and 21st centuries, there have evolved a diverse network of theoretical approaches to interpreting drafts and compositional materials. Scholars of drafts may ask questions about authorship, materiality, production, technology and media, pedagogy, social norms and conventions, ownership and capital, preservation or destruction, even ethics and ontology. However, these investigations have been most pronounced within four fields: (a) media theory, histories of the book, and historical materialisms that investigate the substance, matter, and means of production of drafts as well as the technological, pedagogical, and social norms that mediate writing, and the cultural/historical specifics of these materials and media; (b) textual editing, which establishes methods that regularize (or complicate) how scholarly editions are produced and related mid-20th century New Bibliography approaches, which illuminated some of the limitations of manuscript-and-edition blind close reading, especially by the New Critics; (c) French genetic criticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which engages with French post-structuralism and psychoanalysis to look at writing as a dynamic and developmental process that has both conscious and unconscious components; and (d) legal scholarship and debates concerning rights to ownership and possession of manuscripts and drafts and their publication, which developed between the 17th and 21st century. These discussions, and their elaboration within national and international legislation, resulted in the invention of copyright, moral rights, and changed understanding of legal rights to privacy and property as well as a division between material and intellectual property, the use and destruction of that property, and the delineation of rights of the dead or the dead’s descendants. The draft manuscript came to be endowed with multiple bodies, both fictive and actual, for which individuals, institutions, corporations, and even nations or the world at large, were granted partial ownership or responsibility. From the late 19th century, the catastrophic legacy of modern warfare and its technologies, including censorship, as well as movements in historical preservation, cultural heritage, and ethics have affected policies regarding ownership and the conservancy of drafts. The emergence of digital and on-line textual production/dissemination/preservation in the late 20th and 21st centuries have broadly transformed the ways that drafts may be attended to and even thought. Drafts must finally be seen to have a complex and intimate relationship to the authorial body and to embodiment, materiality, subjectivity, and writing more generally. Drafts—particularly unread, missing, or destroyed drafts—lie at the border between the dead object and living text. As such, the purposeful destruction of drafts and manuscripts initiates an ontological and ethical crisis that raises questions about the relationship between writing and being, process and product, body and thing.