Thursday, June 30, 2022

Book History and African American Poetry

Back in 2010 or so, I read an article "The Talking Book and the Talking Book Historian: African American Cultures of Print -- The State of the Discipline," by Leon Jackson in Book History. I was moved by the range of the article and topics that it took up. I began thinking how I might produce an expansive article on book history and African American poetry.

I had begun my blog in 2008, but it was 2011, when I really picked up the pace of writing about black poetry. In November of that year, I started blogging about prize-winning black poets -- a topic that I've covered quite a bit over the years. 

So those were the ingredients -- poetry, book history, literary prizes, contemporary history -- for a project that developing in my head.

After years of blogging about contemporary histories of black poetry, I recently published my article, "The Consequences of Competition: Book Awards and Twenty-first Century Black Poetry" in Book History

Here's the abstract: 

This article addresses the imperative of merging African American literary studies and book history, a combination of subjects that has received increased scholarly attention in recent years.3 That attention has not yet extended to contemporary books by African American poets. My main argument is that literary prizes and awards and notably the processes of competing for such honors significantly determined the production and reception of volumes of poetry by more than one hundred African American poets in the twenty-first century. Literary accolades were essential passports for professional advancement and the accumulation of prestige or symbolic capital. Without winning or nearly winning major awards, the chances of many Black poets earning widespread media notice and gaining employment at powerful institutions would have been severely diminished. The examination here confirms that book awards were influential, career-defining forces for several Black poets, while serving as barriers for many more.


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