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Introduction: Troubling Spaces

Introduction: Troubling Spaces

(p.3) Introduction: Troubling Spaces
The African American Sonnet
Timo Müller
University Press of Mississippi

When Albery Allson Whitman, a minister and former slave, published his first collection of poetry in 1877, he inaugurated an unlikely genre: the African American sonnet.1 This was an altogether remarkable event. An ethnic group that had largely been excluded from intellectual life was beginning to appropriate one of the most venerable traditions in Western literature. A group whose capabilities had widely been disparaged was demonstrating its mastery of one of the most complex poetic forms in the language. A group whose cultural heritage had mainly relied on oral transmission was turning to one of the most durable genres in written literature. It was a development few were prepared to acknowledge or accept—as June Jordan, herself a writer of sonnets, would put it many years later, it was “not natural” (...

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