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Who Needs American Voices? (Power of Voice 2022 Literature Discussion)

February 2, 2022 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Free – $30

​In the early decades of the 19th century—well after our political independence from England,–it was often said that the new country had no literature or art of its own.

In 1820, British writer Sidney Smith asked, “In the four-quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? Or looks at an American picture or statue?” And many thought that we didn’t need our own literature when we had the whole British tradition to draw on.

The strongest voice against this colonial complex and in favor of a national literature was Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he exerted a profound influence on our great national poet, Walt Whitman, but Harriet Beecher Stowe more quietly used her own voice to address the issue.

Suggested reading:

  • Harriet Beecher, “Uncle Lot” (1833; 1834)​
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” (1837)
  • ​Walt Whitman, Song of Myself (1855; 1881), sections 1, 10, 16, 21, 24, 48, and 52

See full series information and links to readings at https://www.stowehousecincy.org/discussiongroup2021-623760.html

About the series

2022 Discussion Series Theme: Power of Voice

This year the monthly literature discussion series from Harriet Beecher Stowe House will continue with a new theme: “The Power of Voice.” We’ll focus on moments in American–and, in one case, world—history when eloquent voices arose, often from the margins, to address important issues, usually related to social justice, in culture and society.

Harriet Beecher Stowe exemplifies the power of voice. During her eighteen years in Cincinnati (1832 -1850), she discovered her voice as a writer, and in 1851, she decided to devote it to the anti-slavery cause. Horrified by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, she wrote to editor Gamaliel Bailey: “Up to this year I have always felt that I had no particular call to meddle with this subject [slavery], and I dreaded to expose even my own mind to the full force of its existing power. But I feel now that the time has come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak.” The result, of course, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the bestselling blockbuster that awakened many Northerners to the horrors of slavery and helped create the change of heart that would allow the Union to stand firm when the South seceded over slavery.

We’ll study the writings of many authors from the 19th and 20th centuries to determine

  • how they discovered their voices,
  • the forms they chose for expressing their voices,
  • the needs both personal and societal to which they put those expressions,
  • the effects their work had,
  • how we can develop and enlist our own voices in service of our own values.