Reprinting the Past/Reordering Black Social Life

Written by
Autumn Womack
Oct. 26, 2020

In our second session of the fall 2020 semester, Autumn Womack (Princeton) discusses the reprinting practices of the Arno Press. She writes: "This talk begins to recover the cultural and political history of Arno Press’s landmark republication project, The American Negro: His History and Literature. Within the context of the 'reprint revolution,' the period when large publishing houses clamored to publish African American texts, many of which had long been out of print, and with the backing of The New York Times, Arno Press reissued hundreds of titles by and about Black life. While these titles have come to shape the contours of African American literary scholarship, the project's political and cultural context remain woefully understudied. Knitting together personal correspondence, advertisements, and reviews, this talk situates the Arno Press endeavor with a longer history of Black print culture in which historical life was harnessed in the name of imagining new political futures. Yet, within the context of a late 1960s 'reprint revolution,' I show how the Black past was summoned in the service of a liberal fantasy of assimilation, social management, and racial reform. Drawing a line of connection between the technology of reprinting and its ideological workings, this presentation calls for a critical consideration of the labor that we invite Black texts to perform in the service of particular political visions."

[Originally published on September 22, 2020 via the University of Pennsylvania's Workshop in the History of Material Texts]