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Janet Neary

Professor Neary came to Hunter in 2009 after completing a Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Irvine, with emphases in Feminism and Critical Theory. She works on 19th-century African American literature and visual culture, with a particular focus on slave narratives and early black literature of the American West. You can read her essays on these topics in J19, ESQ, African American Literature, and MELUS. In 2018 she was a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West.

Her first book, Fugitive Testimony: On the Visual Logic of Slave Narratives (Fordham University Press, 2017), traces the long arc of the African American slave narrative from the eighteenth century to the present in order to rethink the epistemological limits of the form and to theorize the complicated interplay between the visual and the literary throughout its history. Gathering an archive of ante- and postbellum literary slave narratives as well as contemporary visual art, the book brings visual and performance theory to bear on the genre’s central problematic: that the ex-slave narrator must be both object and subject of his or her own testimony.

She is the editor of Conditions of the Present: Selected Essays by Lindon Barrett (Duke University Press, 2018). This wide-ranging collection, with contributions by Elizabeth Alexander, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Daphne A. Brooks, Linh U. Hua, and Marlon B. Ross, centers African American literature as a site from which to theorize race and liberation in the United States and amplifies Barrett’s ongoing, vital contributions to African American Studies.

She is at work on a second monograph “Equality Before the Law”: Nineteenth-century African American Literature of the West, which examines African American literature and art that emerges from migration routes from the East Coast to the West via Panama and Nicaragua in the wake of the California Gold Rush and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Drawing on recent work in critical geography, the book illuminates the interanimation of the body, the ground, law, and temporality for black Western writers, who articulate economic possibility with social justice and racial equality, while simultaneously highlighting the mercenary and racially-biased nature of the law itself.

In her teaching she encourages students to see 19th-century African American texts as complex, imaginative, and multifaceted responses to the requirement that black authors provide evidence of their humanity. Her curriculum emphasizes form, social context, and the conditions of textual production. Recent courses include “19th-century African American Narratives,” “Slave Narratives: 1760-the Present,” “Frederick Douglass,” “Race and Visual Culture,” and “Performing Freedom: African American Cultural Resistance in Antebellum Contexts.”

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