2018-2019 Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow Tara A. Bynum is a scholar of early American history, in particular African American literary history,
Tara A. Bynum is currently an Assistant Professor of English & African American Studies at the University of Iowa. Her research and writing examine the many ways that people experience blackness
as a racial identity, as a cultural category or as mark upon the skin. Bynum’s essays
have appeared in Common-Place, Legacy, J19, Criticism, and American Periodicals.
While in residence as a Hodson-Brown fellow, Bynum revised her book project, Reading Pleasures (under contract, University of Illinois Press’ New Black Studies series) and mining the many primary sources for those stories that contextualize this literary history. Reading Pleasures parses the archive to interrogate the many ways that people experience blackness as a racial identity, as a cultural category, or as a mark upon the skin. It moves beyond “black” as a category of resistance in order to historicize racialized materiality in the everyday lives of revolutionary-era black people. At a time when Twitter responds to the deaths of unarmed black men and women with #blacklivesmatter, this work charts a “historiography of experience” and a historiography of the ways in which black lives have always mattered to black people. It questions, very specifically, what makes life matter in the writings of Phillis Wheatley, John Marrant, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, and David Walker. And, what matters in their sermons, letters, or narratives—namely, friendship, faith, love or activism—oftentimes feels good, and this good feeling happens in those inside spaces where they can and do feel freely.