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9 - Reconsidering Moses

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Reconstruction

from Part I - The Blind Ruck of Event

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Kathleen Diffley
Affiliation:
University of Iowa
Coleman Hutchison
Affiliation:
University of Texas, Austin
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Summary

This chapter explores Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s neglected epic poem “Moses: A Story of the Nile” (1869). It argues that Harper harnessed the biblical story to create spaces for Black history, agency, and action, and thus placed Black voices at the center of debates over faith, the past, and the nation’s future. It recognizes that “Moses” was also a striking artistic experiment for Harper and a text deeply intertwined with her Reconstruction-era oratory. To support a close reading of the poem’s content and form, after establishing basic facts about “Moses” as a printed artifact, the chapter considers Harper’s 1867 and early 1868 lectures as corollaries to the poem’s composition, later 1868 and early 1869 lectures as critical to the poem’s final form, and both groups of lectures as paratexts. The chapter concludes by hinting at how this approach could shape consideration of a broader range of Reconstruction texts.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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