In the 1970s and 1980s, early African American literature was central to the institutionalization of black studies and a revised US literary canon. The slave narrative in particular became the focus of exciting new or recovered scholarship by Marion Wilson Starling, Frances Smith Foster, William Andrews, Houston A. Baker Jr., Jean Fagan Yellin, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (among others). Then in 2005, a quarter century after publishing her influential Witnessing Slavery (1979), Foster set the course for a new generation of critics by calling for a radical reassessment of both the archive and the methods of early African American literary studies in a field-changing American Literary History article.

Foster’s “Narrative of the Interesting Origins and (Somewhat) Surprising Developments of African American Print Culture” plays on the title of Olaudah Equiano’s now-canonical slave narrative to challenge the prevailing critical emphasis on the...

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