Academic journal article American Studies

EMPOWERING WORDS: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America

Academic journal article American Studies

EMPOWERING WORDS: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America

Article excerpt

EMPOWERING WORDS: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America. By Karen Weyler. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2013.

Among the most prominent topics in American Studies are those with resonance for early Americanists: the ramifications of colonialism, the legacy of slavery and indenture, and the status of gender in historical meditations on public virtue. Karen Weyler addresses these and other enigmatic themes from the perspective of early modern outsider authors: the poets, printers, editors, artisans, and aspirants whose means of actualizing their public personae were never necessarily a simple matter of setting pen to paper. Phillis Wheatley, now celebrated as an early American poet of great skill and insight, made sense of authorship as an accession to knowledge of literary genres and their manipulation. She lived what Weyler calls a dualistic existence as acculturated to whiteness and Christianity and yet wholly unlike her audiences in New England. While her reliance on elegiac writing ensured her place in period discourses that drew significantly on faith, evangelism, and other topoi, her elegies also maintained her status as a complicated authorial and racial figure in an equally complex public sphere (57). As Weyler points out, Wheatley is a fascinating figure not least for the ways in which she rendered gender fungible, standing for the potentiality of Africans and African Americans male or female (68). Deborah Sampson, who masqueraded as an enlisted male solider in the Revolution, challenged early Republican paradigms of authorship on separate terms, seizing control of her celebrity status by refashioning notions of masculine and feminine virtue (145). In instances in which male intermediaries and authorial collaborators spoke for Sampson herself, her own understanding of the performative nature of gender as well as of the power of oration was nevertheless publically recognized. …

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