Friday, October 15, 2021

Joycelyn Moody's A History of African American Autobiography

I'm a contributor to A History of African American Autobiography (2021) edited by Joycelyn Moody. I received my complimentary copy yesterday.

Moody has been doing research on African American autobiographical works for some time. She and I first met, let's see, on October 1, 2004, at the University of Kansas at a lecture by Jean Fagan Yellin focusing on Harriet Jacobs. At that point, Moody was already decades deep into her study of autobiography, especially black autobiography. So this book was a long time coming, and just as important, it continues her considerations of what is meant by autobiography and "life writing," a term scholars have increasingly used over the years.

The collection was published by Cambridge University Press. It includes contributions from a range of scholars: Rhondda Robinson Thomas, Eric D. Lamore, William L. Andrews, John Ernest, AndreĆ” N. Williams, Lois Brown, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Nicole Aljoe, Brian J. Norman, Moya Bailey and Whitney Peoples, Cedrick May, Barbara McCaskill, James Smethurst, Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Anthony Foy, Caroline Streeter, Tara D. Green, Michael Chaney, Giselle Anatol, Jonda McNair, Frances Smith Foster. You can view the table of contents here.

Moody provides the introduction, "Creafting a Credible Black Self in African American Life Writing," which offers context concerning the histories of memoir and autobiography. Moody writes that:

As the most expansive literary canon of African diasporic peoples, African American autobiographical writing consists of texts that range from the talking books, freedom petitions, and captivity narratives of the 1600s to today’s digital and virtual forms Black people adapt to construct selfhood to tell their lives.

The collection opens with "A Chronology of African American Life Writing," from 1760 to 2020. In addition to identifying several classic autobiographies, the chronology includes volumes of poetry and noted biographies.

My contribution, "Black Lives in Contemporary Persona Poems" discusses volumes of poetry in the context of autobiographical impulses.

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