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  • Acknowledgments  ix
    Introduction: In Search of Black Readers  1
    1 "Dreaded Eloquence": The Origins and Rise of African American Literary Societies  23
    2 Spreading the Word: The Cultural Work of the Black Press  84
    3 Literary Coalitions in the Age of Washington  141
    4 Reading, Writing, and Reform in the Woman's Era  187
    5 Georgia Douglas Johnson and the Saturday Nighters  251
    Epilogue: Building Community in Contemporary Reading Groups  297
    Notes  317
    Bibliography  387
    Index  401
  • Winner, 2003 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award for Nonfiction

    Winner, 2003 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

    Winner, 2003 Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, & Publishing Book History Prize

    Awards

  • Winner, 2003 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award for Nonfiction

    Winner, 2003 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

    Winner, 2003 Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, & Publishing Book History Prize

  • Forgotten Readers focuses upon an aspect of African American culture that was extraordinarily significant in the development of its literary tradition and in its political and social development as well, but one that, as Elizabeth McHenry notes, has been ignored or simplistically described. This book will be instrumental in challenging and changing some erroneous notions about African American history and literature specifically, and American culture in general.”—Frances Smith Foster, Emory University

    “Elizabeth McHenry’s Forgotten Readers is a seminal study of the pivotal role that literary societies played in the shaping of African American culture in the nineteenth century. While many scholars knew of the existence of these societies, most of us had presumed their records to be lost or nonexistent. Through meticulous research, McHenry has managed to reconstruct the nature and function of these curious arenas of literary culture in splendid detail. The study is a major contribution to the history of literacy in the African American community. No scholar or student can understand nineteenth-century African American literary history without reading this book.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

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  • Description

    Over the past decade the popularity of black writers including E. Lynn Harris and Terry McMillan has been hailed as an indication that an active African American reading public has come into being. Yet this is not a new trend; there is a vibrant history of African American literacy, literary associations, and book clubs. Forgotten Readers reveals that neglected past, looking at the reading practices of free blacks in the antebellum north and among African Americans following the Civil War. It places the black upper and middle classes within American literary history, illustrating how they used reading and literary conversation as a means to assert their civic identities and intervene in the political and literary cultures of the United States from which they were otherwise excluded.

    Forgotten Readers expands our definition of literacy and urges us to think of literature as broadly as it was conceived of in the nineteenth century. Elizabeth McHenry delves into archival sources, including the records of past literary societies and the unpublished writings of their members. She examines particular literary associations, including the Saturday Nighters of Washington, D.C., whose members included Jean Toomer and Georgia Douglas Johnson. She shows how black literary societies developed, their relationship to the black press, and the ways that African American women’s clubs—which flourished during the 1890s—encouraged literary activity. In an epilogue, McHenry connects this rich tradition of African American interest in books, reading, and literary conversation to contemporary literary phenomena such as Oprah Winfrey’s book club.

    About The Author(s)

    Elizabeth McHenry is Assistant Professor of English at New York University.