Infamous Bodies

Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights

Infamous Bodies

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 36 illustrations Published: August 2020

Author: Samantha Pinto

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

The countless retellings and reimaginings of the private and public lives of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta have transformed them into difficult cultural and black feminist icons. In Infamous Bodies Samantha Pinto explores how histories of these black women and their ongoing fame generate new ways of imagining black feminist futures. Drawing on a variety of media, cultural, legal, and critical sources, Pinto shows how key political concepts such as freedom, consent, contract, citizenship, and sovereignty are shaped by the narratives surrounding these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century celebrities. Whether analyzing Wheatley's fame in relation to conceptions of race and freedom, notions of consent in Hemings' relationship with Thomas Jefferson, or Baartman's ability to enter into legal contracts, Pinto reveals the centrality of race, gender, and sexuality in the formation of political rights. In so doing, she contends that feminist theories of black women's vulnerable embodiment can be the starting point for future progressive political projects.


Infamous Bodies is required reading for scholars of black feminist theory. This ambitious, provocative book interrogates female celebrity as a crucial genre through which black women come into political view. Samantha Pinto's careful and thoughtful wrestling with black women celebrities who have become—or perhaps always were—‘difficult’ in and for black feminist studies requires that scholars probe the very meaning of the ‘political’ for black feminist thought. Black feminist theory will be both challenged and transformed by Pinto's careful and counterintuitive readings of black women's representation and by Pinto’s call for the necessary centrality of vulnerability to our scholarly and political work.” — Jennifer C. Nash, author of Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Samantha Pinto is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, author of Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic, and coeditor of Writing Beyond the State: Post-Sovereign Approaches to Human Rights in Literary Studies.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0832-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0783-8