Department of English

Cedrick May

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Call them literary sleuths. English Associate Professor Cedrick May and graduate student Julie McCown recently discovered a never-before-published manuscript from one of the founders of early African-American literature. The handwritten poem by Jupiter Hammon, an 18th-century slave, called An Essay on Slavery had been boxed away in the Yale University Library archives. Dating from 1786, the work represents a major shift in the ideology that Hammon publicly advocated during his lifetime and seems to show his internal conflict over whether slavery was “God’s will” or a “dark and dismal” manmade state. Literary experts say the discovery is important because it voices a strong, direct critique of slavery and expands the few known works by enslaved African-Americans in the 1700s. “Initially, I thought this was either an incredibly elaborate hoax or a title put on something that Hammon had written earlier,” Dr. May says. “But that was not the case.” The research and the poem itself will be published in the June 2013 edition of the journal Early American Literature.

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