Black Authored, Self-Published

No publishing house--secular or religious, Northern or Southern--would print the radical liberation theology of David Walker’s An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829). Even the most progressive publisher would have found Walker’s aggressive confrontation of whites over slavery and racism, and his defense of violent resistance to slavery risky to produce under their publishing house imprint. And yet, despite the many exclusions of the literary marketplace, three editions of the Appeal were printed during Walker’s lifetime, and these pamphlets were distributed and read throughout the United States. Walker’s Appeal found life because he published it himself. Walker was far from alone in the practice of self-publication. Over one hundred African American authors self-published their books, narratives, pamphlets, and other texts in the nineteenth century. This roundtable brings together literary scholars, historians, and archivists who are working to recover self-publication and to consider how this historical practice mounts a challenge to conventional understandings of race and literary professionalism in the antebellum book market.

Self-published books (often demarcated “Printed/Published for the Author” in their front matter) diverge from conventional models of nineteenth-century textual production in two meaningful ways. First, authors who adopted this method had no mediating editor or publisher to censor or shape the content of their books. Second, authors who self-published their books were often responsible for their own textual distribution, and generally, their texts reached readers through channels outside established bookstores and sellers. By considering self-publication categorically, roundtable participants will ask: how do self-published, black-authored texts differ from those published by abolitionist editors? How are they the same? What is the relationship between politics and publication?

As an exercise in critical bibliography, roundtable participants will compile a comprehensive list of self-published texts by African American authors in advance of the conference. The scope of this bibliography--containing familiar names like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and David Walker alongside all-but-forgotten texts by William Hayden and Louisa Picquet--will challenge the expectation that African American literature was something that was always mediated and produced through white structures of power. Not only will this roundtable take a fresh approach to underexamined material, but participants will also establish a historically-informed approach from which these texts might be better understood.

 

The Bibliography

Black-Authored, Self-Published texts by decade:

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Black-Authored, Self-Published texts by geography:

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