Twenty years ago I visited London for the first time with my family. Since then, I’ve been returning and returning to the city, now with my own children in tow. It’s my favorite city in the world, and so I was thrilled to see a call for entries to a writing contest called Love Letters to London hosted by The London Society. My 500-word entry called “City of Forking Paths” was shortlisted for the international category, and this past week I got to go to London and attend the awards presentation, where I won first prize. It was amazing to hear so many writers of all ages describing what London means to them, and I’m chuffed to bits (as the English say) to be a winner. To read more and download my entry, click here.
For the C19 (Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists) Podcast, I wrote and produced an episode titled “Monumentalizing John W. Jones.” This episode uses a monument to unravel the story of John W. Jones, a self-emancipated Black activist, civic leader, and entrepreneur living in nineteenth-century Elmira, New York. Jones is most often remembered for the “caring” way he buried nearly 3,000 bodies of Confederate soldiers who died in a Civil War prison camp in Elmira. Jillian Spivey Caddell describes how her scholarly interest in Elmira and the life of John W. Jones (along with his connections to another famous visitor to the city, Mark Twain) led her to discover that her own ancestor was among the Confederates buried by Jones. To get a full sense of Jones’s character, Caddell interviews Talima Aaron, president of the Board of Trustees of the John W. Jones Museum; Rachel Dworkin, archivist for the Chemung County Historical Society; and Mary Wheeling, who also shares a personal connection with Jones and Elmira. The episode meditates on questions of how personal histories and scholarly interests collide and suggests ways that knowing the story of Jones can influence our teaching of C19 American literature and culture. Finally, it resituates Jones as central to conversations about Civil War memory and forms of nineteenth-century Black citizenship.
Listen to the episode here:
- John W. Jones Museum
- Chemung County Historical Society/Museum
- To learn more about the Civil War Monuments Database, contact Kristen Treen or Jillian Spivey Caddell.
Glathaar, Joseph T. Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee. UNC Press, 2011.
Gray, Michael P. The Business of Captivity: Elmira and its Civil War Prison Camp. Kent State UP, 2001.
Holmes, Clayton Wood. The Elmira Prison Camp. G.P. Putnam, 1912.
Merritt, Keri Leigh. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Cambridge UP, 2017.
Spires, Derrick R. The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States. U of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.
Still, William. Still’s Underground Rail Road Records. Philadelphia, 1886.
Teaching the Story of John W. Jones
Mark Twain, “A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It.” Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co., November 1874.
- Twain’s first story published in the Atlantic Monthly was a thinly veiled fictionalization of a story told to him by his family’s African-American cook in Elmira, Mary Ann Cord. Cord’s remarkable story of reuniting with her son during the Civil War illustrates the “troubles and joys” of Elmira’s Black citizens–and Twain’s complicated relationships with them.
Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997.
Jonathan W. White and Scott Sandage, “What Frederick Douglass Had to Say About Monuments.” Smithsonian Magazine, 30 June 2020.
- Douglass’s speech along with the newly re-found letter by Douglass about the Freedmen’s Monument (also called the Emancipation Memorial) shows students that monuments have always been sites of cultural and societal dialogue. Savage’s influential reading of the monument demonstrates how race is always inscribed in the materials and aesthetics of U.S. monuments.
“What happens when the familiar and poignant gap of desire is cauterized by a technology that underscores our separateness? What’s left but void?”
I wrote about the BBC/Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People for CNN Opinions.
“Connell’s look tells the story of everything he shares with Marianne. It says that wires and cables and technology may enable this form of “chatting,” but intimacy requires proximity, and no video chat will ever replicate the nearness of the real thing. It says, I know you, and I’ll see you on the other side of this when we have nothing but time.”
I’m delighted to have an essay in the new edited collection Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image (UGA Press, 2019). My essay is called “‘Companion to…the pending struggle’: L. Prang and Company’s War Telegram Marking Map.” Editors Kathleen Diffley and Ben Fagan have done a brilliant job of shepherding this book into the world, and it’s a thing of beauty. Read more about it here! (Amazon link)
I’ve entered the world of podcasting! The Book Light is a new podcast dedicated to illuminating classics of literature. Each episode, we take on a new text or author–analyzing their words, exploring their impact, and speaking with experts who shed new light (sorry) on famous texts. Check out our website or subscribe/download on iTunes.
Last fall, I had the pleasure of making my first podcast appearance on PhDivas, a brilliant show hosted by Liz Wayne and Xine Yao. Listen here!
I’ve also written a new review of Mark Bradford’s new awe-inspiring commission at the Hirshhorn, inspired by C19 Civil War cycloramas. Read the review here.
I’ve written a new commentary piece for Apollo considering the role of museums in the age of “fake news” (and in light of multiple abhorrent racist incidents that have occurred in D.C. and elsewhere). Read it here, and let me know what you think!
I wrote a short commentary for Apollo on the politics of preserving the 19th-century cyclorama The Battle of Atlanta. Read it here!
For more on the cyclorama, check out the website of the Atlanta History Center.
Image: Atlanta History Center
My review of the new-ish National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has been published by Apollo. Read it here and let me know what you think!