Poetry Reveals Unseen Reality of Black Lives in 19th Century

Voices Beyond Bondage 2016

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century.

Co-Authors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis will give voice to long-forgotten poets first published in black-owned newspapers

Wed., July 13, 2016, 6-7:30pm, Reading Room, Portsmouth Athenaeum, 9 Market Square, Portsmouth, NH

Free and open to the public.
In collaboration with the New Hampshire Gazette

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — When we think of African American lives in the 19th century, the images that first spring to mind usually involve slaves in chains, toiling on master’s plantation, beatings, and bloodied whips. These images are all too well grounded in ample source materials, penned both by others, and by those who suffered in bondage. Yet the identity of 19th century African Americans was not limited to those who were enslaved. Whether freeborn, self-liberated, or born after the Emancipation, African Americans had a rich cultural heritage all their own, a heritage which has been largely subsumed, in popular history and in collective memory, by the atrocity of slavery.

The early 19th century birthed the nation’s first black-owned periodicals, the first media spaces to provide primary outlets for the empowerment of African American voices. For many, poetry became this empowerment. Almost every black-owned periodical featured an open call for poetry, and African Americans, both free and enslaved, responded by submitting droves of poems for publication. Yet until now, these poems — and an entire literary movement — have been lost to modern readers.

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century
, brings those voices back to life. The first anthology to focus on the poetry of the 19th century’s black-owned press, the book compiles 150 poems culled from thirty-six black owned newspapers into one unique volume, bringing to light an almost completely neglected part of American history.

The poems in Voices Beyond Bondage address the horrific and the mundane, the humorous and the ordinary and the extraordinary. Authors wrote about slavery, but also about love, morality, politics, perseverance, nature, and God. These poems evidence authors who were passionate, dedicated, vocal, and above all resolute in a bravery which was both weapon and shield against a world of prejudice and inequity. These authors wrote to be heard; more than 150 years later it is at last time for us to listen.

Published by NewSouth Books (NewSouthBooks.com/voices) in 2014, Voices Beyond Bondage has been the subject of features on “The Tavis Smiley Radio Program” and NPR’s “Here and Now,” and articles in the New York Times and Washington Post. The authors have spoken at venues including the PEN/Faulkner Center in Washington, D.C. and the Boston Public Library.

On Wednesday, July 13th, the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and the Portsmouth Athenaeum, in collaboration with the New Hampshire Gazette will bring those voices to Portsmouth. Co-authors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis will read a number of poems, including at least one authored by a New England native, followed by an audience-led question and answer period. DeSimone is currently an editorial assistant at the Modern Language Association, where she has worked for more than a decade. Louis has written for several newspapers and was managing editor of the Caribbean News Network.

This event will be held from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the Reading Room, and will be free and open to the public.

For more details on this event call (603) 431-2538.

Learn more or read an excerpt from the book: newsouthbooks.com/voices/

The New Hampshire Gazette owes its existence in part to Primus X, an enslaved African American who was its pressman for thirty years. On his death in 1791 he was the first African American to be the subject of a poem in a New Hampshire newspaper.