Presented By: American Antiquarian Society
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In Fair Copy Jennifer Putzi studies the composition, publication, and circulation of American women’s poetry in the antebellum United States. In opposition to a traditional scholarly emphasis on originality and individuality, or a recovery method centered on author-based interventions, Putzi proposes a theory and methodology of relational poetics: focusing on poetry written by working-class and African American women poets, she demonstrates how an emphasis on relationships between and among people and texts shaped the poems that women wrote, the avenues they took to gain access to print, and the way their poems functioned within a variety of print cultures. Yet it is their very relationality which has led to these poems and the poets who published them being written out of literary history. Fair Copy models a radical reading and recovery of this work in a way that will redirect the study of nineteenth-century American women’s poetry.
Beginning with Lydia Huntley Sigourney and ending with Elizabeth Akers Allen and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Putzi argues that relational practices like imitation, community, and collaboration distinguished the poetry of antebellum American women, especially those whose access to print was mediated by class or race. To demonstrate this point, she recovers poetry by the “factory girls” of the Lowell Offering, African American poet Sarah Forten, and domestic servant Maria James, whose volume Wales, and Other Poems was published in 1839. Putzi’s work reveals a careful navigation of the path to print for each of these writers, as well as a fierce claim to poetry and all that it represented in the antebellum United States.
Jennifer Putzi is Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she teaches courses in nineteenth-century American literature, American women’s poetry, and book history and print culture. She is the author or editor of five books, most recently The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry (2017, co-edited with Alexandra Socarides) and Fair Copy: Relational Poetics and Antebellum American Women’s Poetry (2021). She is a co-editor of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. She is currently working on an edition of the 1868 diary of Frances Rollin Whipper, an African American woman from South Carolina commissioned to write a biography of Martin R. Delany.