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Criminal Genius in African American and US Literature, 1793–1845

How did creative genius develop in tandem with the criminalization of Blackness in the early United States?

In Criminal Genius in African American and US Literature, 1793–1845, Erin Forbes uncovers a model of racialized, collective agency in American literature and culture. Identifying creative genius in the figure of the convict, the zombie, the outlaw, the insurgent, and the fugitive, Forbes deepens our understanding of the historical relationship between criminality and Blackness and reestablishes the importance of the aesthetic in early African American literature.

About the Author

Erin Forbes is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Bristol.

Endorsements

"An irreplaceable cultural history, Criminal Genius delivers a toolkit for us to see how those who resisted our disreputable past can light a pathway toward our contemporary abolitionism"

- Stephen Shapiro, coeditor of Decolonizing the Undead: Rethinking Zombies in World-Literature, Film, and Media

"Criminal Genius examines the dethroning of liberal agency in early America. Forbes excels at showing how the conjoined processes of racialization and criminalization transmogrified the liberal subject into the convict, the fugitive, the zombie, and the rebel."

- Russ Castronovo, author of American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability

"Forbes guides us through the unexpected heart of American culture by exploring the ways in which racialized concepts of criminality led to deployments of creative genius that expose the fractures in both white liberal and white supremacist fantasies about the national project. A strikingly creative and illuminating study."

- John Ernest, author of Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861

"Revisiting discourses of genius and criminality sullying Lockean personhood, including the rhyming of criminality with Blackness, Forbes brilliantly unearths an alternative form of agency."

- Christina Zwarg, author of The Archive of Fear: White Crisis and Black Freedom in Douglass, Stowe, and Du Bois

"Criminal Genius accomplishes what real scholarship is supposed to. Its radically new and entirely surprising account of liberal individualism results from synthetic thinking across multiple conversations and sub-fields, with far-reaching implications for all of them."

- Jordan Alexander Stein, coeditor of Early African American Print Culture

"Forbes offers a provocative new account of genius, attending to its transgressive potential in surprising ways and proposing its agencies as shared, rather than exceptional or limited. An important contribution to ongoing conversations about racialization, liberalism, and the antiracist futures we might create."

- Elizabeth Duquette, author of American Tyrannies in the Long Age of Napoleon

"This erudite book is an acrobatic work of historically and philosophically informed scholarship. Criminal Genius compels us to reckon with the very foundations of how we interpret literary culture, and opens up new possibilities for thinking through the elisions and inequities of America's past."

- Christopher Hager, author of Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing

"Drawing on a rich archive and performing incisive readings, Erin Forbes offers an urgently needed and incredibly compelling reevaluation of criminality that should command the attention of nineteenth-century Americanists and law and literature scholars alike."

- John Funchion, author of Novel Nostalgias: The Aesthetics of Antagonism in Nineteenth-Century US Literature
Johns Hopkins University Press
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