Race and Time urges our attention to women’s poetry in considering the cultural history of race. Building on close readings of well known and less familiar poets—including Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Sarah Louisa Forten, Hannah Flagg Gould, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sarah Piatt, Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert, Sarah Josepha Hale, Eliza Follen, and Mary Mapes Dodge—Gray traces tensions in women’s literary culture from the era of abolitionism to the rise of the Plantation tradition. She devotes a chapter to children’s verse, arguing that racial stereotypes work as “nonsense” that masks conflicts in the construction of white childhood. A compilation of the poems cited, most of which are difficult to find elsewhere, is included as an appendix.

Gray clarifies the cultural roles women’s poetry played in the nineteenth-century United States and also reveals that these poems offer a fascinating, dynamic, and diverse field for students of social and cultural history. Gray’s readings provide a rich sense of the contexts in which this poetry is embedded and examine its aesthetic and political vitality in meticulous detail, linking careful explication of the texts with analysis of the history of poetry, canons, literacy, and literary authority.

Race and Time distinguishes itself from other critical studies not only through its searching, in-depth readings but also through its sustained attention to less known poets and its departure from a Dickinson-centered model. Most significantly, it offers a focus on race, demonstrating how changes in both the U.S. racial structure and women’s place in public culture set the terms for change in how women poets envisioned the relationship between poetry and social power.

Gray’s work makes contributions to several fields of study: poetry, U.S. literary history and American studies, women’s studies, African American studies and whiteness studies, children’s literature, and cultural studies. While placing the works of figures who have been treated elsewhere (e.g., Dickinson and Harper) into revealing new relationships, Race and Time does much to open interdisciplinary discussion of unfamiliar works.

“Gray’s arguments and interpretations are convincing and compelling. She convincingly illustrates how the complex relationship between racial and temporal thematics is at the heart of nineteenth-century American women’s poetry and poetics. In the process, she reveals the ways in which these texts and their contexts are a fascinating, dynamic, and diverse field for scholars of nineteenth-century U.S. social and cultural history—in particular, scholars examining race, gender, modes of historical representation, childhood, literary history, and print culture.”—Gregory Eiselein, editor of Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings
“Gray’s readings of individual works are brilliant: she consistently astonishes the reader with her supple elucidation of the sense and nonsense of this poetry, and what had seemed a simple and trivial verse suddenly presents itself as a rich cultural artifact. . . . Gray’s work is an important contribution to the practice of reading race back into literature.”—James Wallace, Boston College



I. Introduction

1. Wrappings, A Methodological Introduction

2. Contesting the Pearl, Whiteness, Blackness, and the Possession of American Poetry

II. Antebellum

3. “Skins May Differ,” Women’s Republicanism and the Poetics of Abolitionism

4. The Mummy Returns, Humor, Kinship, and the Bindings of Print

III. Postbellum

5. Looking in the Glass, Sarah Piatt’s Poetics of Play and Loss

6. We Women Radicals, Frances Harper’s Poetics of Radical Formation

7. What One Is Not Was, Mary Eliza Tucker Lambert’s Poetics of Self-Reconstruction

8. Critical Positions in Racial Modernity, An Approach to Teaching

IV. Other Times: Childhood and Nonsense

9. The Containment of Childhood, Reproducing Consumption in American Children’s Verse

Appendix: Poems Cited

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, The Kneeling Slave

Sarah Louise Forten, An Appeal to Women

Frances E.W. Harper, The Slave Mother

Hannah Flagg Gould, The Slave Mother’s Prayer

Hannah Flagg Gould, The Child’s Address to the Kentucky Mummy

Sarah Piatt, A Child’s Party (in Kentucky, A.D. 185_)

Frances Harper, Aunt Chloe

Mary Eliza Perine Tucker Lambert, Loew’s Bridge, a Broadway Idyl

Anonymous, The Three Little Kittens

Sarah Josepha Hale, Mary’s Lamb

Mary Mapes Dodge, Shephard John

Mary Mapes Dodge, The Way to Do It

Hannah Flagg Gould, Apprehension

Mary Mapes Dodge, The Wooden Horse

Hannah Flagg Gould, The Butterfly’s Dream

Mary Mapes Dodge, The Mayor of Scuttleton

Lizzie W. Champney, How Persimmons Took Cah ob der Baby


Works Cited


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Publication Details

Publication Date
Pages, art, trim size
332 pages, 1 photo, 13 drawings, 5 3/4 x 9 1/4 inches