Race and Performance in the Prison Archives: ‘The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict’
This presentation will introduce the working group to “The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict,” an 1858 autobiography by Austin Reed. Unpublished during the author’s lifetime and recently acquired by the Beinecke Library, the manuscript is the earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer. Reed’s narrative describes his life as an indentured servant, an inmate of the nation’s first juvenile reformatory, and a prisoner at New York’s Auburn State Prison, the model of the industrial penitentiary in the antebellum period. The presentation will focus on scenes of performance in the memoir and explore some of the problems involved in reading the memoir as a kind of performance. More about Reed’s manuscript can be found in this New York Times piece:
Caleb Smith is professor of English and American Studies at Yale and the author of The Prison and the American Imagination (Yale UP, 2009) and The Oracle and the Curse (Harvard UP, 2013). He is working on an edition of Austin Reed’s “The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict,” to be published by Random House in 2016. He has written about contemporary media and the arts for Avidly, BOMB, Paper Monument, and other venues, and he is co-editor of No Crisis, a special series on criticism in the twenty-first century, to appear from the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2015.