The Strangers Book
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The Strangers Book
The Human of African American Literature

Lloyd Pratt

200 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2015 | ISBN 9780812247688 | $55.00s | Outside the Americas £47.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Haney Foundation Series
View table of contents and excerpt

"The alternative humanism claimed by former slaves yields many corrective lessons for the present. Lloyd Pratt transforms our understanding of that archive by inserting the figure of the stranger into the interpretative frame. Energized by a host of newly unearthed discoveries, his innovative, absorbing book initiates a novel and urgent enquiry: the entanglement of race with various kinds of xenology. Ambitious and learned, this book will reshape the field of U.S. literary history."—Paul Gilroy, King's College London

"Lloyd Pratt's work addresses and rearticulates, in an exquisite way, current discussions of the status of the human in antebellum African American literature."—Branka Arsić, Columbia University

"The Strangers Book provides a bracing and unexpected perspective on literary history. As Pratt's chapters unfold, the reader begins to see how early African American letters can be read as offering new critical possibilities for Western literature as a whole."—Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania

The Strangers Book explores how various nineteenth-century African American writers radically reframed the terms of humanism by redefining what it meant to be a stranger. Rejecting the idea that humans have easy access to a common reserve of experiences and emotions, they countered the notion that a person can use a supposed knowledge of human nature to claim full understanding of any other person's life. Instead they posited that being a stranger, unknown and unknowable, was an essential part of the human condition. Affirming the unknown and unknowable differences between people, as individuals and in groups, laid the groundwork for an ethical and democratic society in which all persons could find a place. If everyone is a stranger, then no individual or class can lay claim to the characteristics that define who gets to be a human in political and public arenas.

Lloyd Pratt focuses on nineteenth-century African American writing and publishing venues and practices such as the Colored National Convention movement and literary societies in Nantucket and New Orleans. Examining the writing of Frederick Douglass in tandem with that of the francophone free men of color who published the first anthology of African American poetry in 1845, he contends these authors were never interested in petitioning whites for sympathy or for recognition of their humanity. Instead, they presented a moral imperative to develop practices of stranger humanism in order to forge personal and political connections based on mutually acknowledged and always evolving differences.

Lloyd Pratt is Drue Heinz Professor of American Literature at the University of Oxford. He is author of Archives of American Time: Literature and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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