Making Negro Literature: Literary Workspaces at the Margins of Print Culture | National Humanities Center

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Making Negro Literature: Literary Workspaces at the Margins of Print Culture

April 20, 2017

As part of her ongoing effort to chronicle African American literary culture at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Elizabeth McHenry (NHC Fellow, 1998–99) has been focusing on African American bibliographies, which emerged as experimental knowledge structures that provided ways of mapping and making sense of an emerging and rapidly evolving canon of “Negro literature.” These bibliographies were not just “lists,” but exploratory documents, where black intellectuals thought critically and advanced arguments about the boundaries and contours of black literature and authorship. Despite their seeming authority, bibliographies also make visible the instability of African American literature at the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the most understudied and least understood moments in African American literary history.

Elizabeth McHenry’s talk at the Center also serves as the keynote address for the Triangle Book History Symposium, April 20-22, 2017, organized by Paul Fyfe (NHC Fellow, 2018–19) and sponsored by the RBS-Mellon Fellowship in Critical Biography and the National Humanities Center. For details and to register for the symposium, please visit

Elizabeth McHenry
Elizabeth McHenry, New York University
Elizabeth McHenry is associate professor of English at New York University where her research explores African American literature, culture, and intellectual history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a literary historian, her work is committed to using archival materials to map those invisible or overlooked aspects of African American print culture and intellectual history. She is the author of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (Duke University Press, 2002), which chronicles the reading practices and organized literary associations of African Americans between 1830 and 1940. She is currently completing a book length manuscript entitled “Making Negro Literature: Writing, Literary Practice, and African American Authorship, 1895-1910,” a project that seeks to make visible how literature was envisioned and practiced in the transitional years between two centuries. McHenry was a Fellow at the National Humanities Center in 1998-99.