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Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by

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

Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone was interviewed last week on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” In a lively exchange, DeSimone told host Peter O’Dowd about the 19th century African American literary movement celebrated in her newly published anthology, co-edited with Fidel Louis. Only recently have scholars even begun to look at the verse that appeared in scores of black-owned newspapers dating from the antebellum and postbellum periods. Not surprisingly, says DeSimone, readers have been intrigued by the beauty and strength of the poems within the book’s pages.

“There was a whole movement of poetry writing by African Americans of the 19th century . . . almost every single black-owned newspaper in the nation carried a poetry column,” DeSimone enthused. In response to Dowd’s expression of surprise, DeSimone observed that at the start of the Civil War, roughly 10% of slaves were literate. Many black Americans during the period either learned to read and write in free schools in the North or were taught by family members and friends. In poetry, she added, African Americans gave voice to joy and pain and to the harsh experiences of their lives.

The “Here and Now” interviewed coincided with a Massachusetts book tour for co-editors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis. They took their anthology on the road talking to appreciative audiences at two Boston Public Library branches — Mattapan, in Mattapan, MA, and Grove Hall, in Dorchester, MA — and also to Boston’s Museum of African American History.

To hear the interview and a sample of pieces featured in the anthology, visit NPR’s “Here & Now.” Voices Beyond Bondage is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

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