LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 10, 2018) — Nazera Wright, associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, has been named the 2018 recipient of the Children's Literature Association's Honor Book Award for her 2016 scholarly book titled, "Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century," published by University of Illinois Press.
The book shows how the figure of the black girl in African-American literature provided a powerful avenue for exploring issues like domesticity, femininity and proper conduct. Wright draws on heavy archival research and a wide range of texts about African-American girls to explore the unstudied phenomenon of black girlhood. In doing this, the book documents a literary genealogy of the cultural attitudes toward black girls in the United States.
In 2017-18, Wright has garnered a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellowship for research at the Library Company of Philadelphia and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Wright's current research will contribute to the completion of her second book, titled "Literary Legacies: Early African American Women Writers and their Libraries," which examines the intertwining histories of libraries and African-American literary history. Wright explores early African-American women writers' access to libraries to write their books and how the histories of African-American women writers are buried in archives or in literary forms less likely to be studied, such as autograph albums.
"Wright’s research is a game changer for our understanding of literary history. She is showing how African-American women used libraries to advance personal and political goals, while also demonstrating that our previous inability to see this fascinating history has impoverished our sense of literature’s power in the world. It’s thrilling to have her research recognized with prestigious fellowships and awards," said Professor Jeffory Clymer, chair of the Department of English.
"It traces the influence of libraries and historical repositories on the literary careers and enduring legacies of 18th and 19th century African-American women writers," explained Wright. "The book contributes to our understanding of literary and material history, African-American authorship and the professional possibilities for African-American women."
As a fellow of The Library Company of Philadelphia, Wright has explored several collections and archival materials to find histories of early African-American women writers and their libraries. Of particular interest are African-American women writers' signatures and inscriptions written in autograph albums located in the library's collections.
"While the albums contain signatures dating from 1877 to 1886, the materials in the entire collection date from 1734 to 1976, and consist of scrapbooks, ephemera, newspaper clippings, common prayer books, invitations, holiday cards and other personal papers," Wright said.
Wright continues to examine these resources to better understand the professional and personal lives of early African-American women writers and their relationship to prominent middle class African-American families in Philadelphia.
She will be presented with the Honor Book Award at the Children's Literature Association banquet on Saturday, June 30.