Standing outside elite or even middling circles, outsiders who
were marginalized by limitations on their freedom and their need to
labor for a living had a unique grasp on the profoundly social
nature of print and its power to influence public opinion. In
Empowering Words, Karen A. Weyler explores how outsiders used
ephemeral formats such as broadsides, pamphlets, and newspapers to
publish poetry, captivity narratives, formal addresses, and other
genres with wide appeal in early America.
To gain access to print, outsiders collaborated with amanuenses and
editors, inserted their stories into popular genres and cheap
media, tapped into existing social and religious networks, and
sought sponsors and patrons. They wrote individually,
collaboratively, and even corporately, but writing for them was
almost always an act of connection. Disparate levels of literacy
did not necessarily entail subordination on the part of the
lessliterate collaborator. Even the minimally literate and the
illiterate understood the potential for print to be life changing,
and outsiders shrewdly employed strategies to assert themselves
within collaborative dynamics.
Empowering Words covers an array of outsiders including
artisans; the minimally literate; the poor, indentured, or
enslaved; and racial minorities. By focusing not only on New
England, the traditional stronghold of early American literacy, but
also on southern towns such as Williamsburg and Charleston, Weyler
limns a more expansive map of early American authorship.
Subjects: Language & Literature, History
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