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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Nicholas Bromell

Second Advisor

Ruth Jennison

Third Advisor

Britt Rusert

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Cultural History | Literature in English, North America


This study examines long poems and newspaper poems written by African American and Anglo-American writers between the early phase of the forced relocation of Indigenous peoples and the Emancipation Proclamation in order to argue that antebellum poetry is a key site of generating visions of worlds to come. While the white women mobilized the annotated epic genre to project control over the future, mitigating the threat of Indigenous presence or a rebellion of enslaved Africans, the Black writers embraced poetry as a site of protest and radical imaginative practice by anticipating a social cataclysm or improvising a future of freedom. Forms of the Future proceeds through a series of historically grounded and formally attentive close readings to ask how Maria Gowen Brooks, Lydia Sigourney, James Monroe Whitfield, Martin Delany, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper mobilize aesthetics for the political work of seeing the future in a present shaped by conquest, imperialism, the expansion of slavery, and the disenfranchisement of free Black northerners. Thus, Brooks develops an aesthetic of languor to deny her active role as enslaver of African laborers on her Cuban plantation. Sigourney relies on a philanthropic aesthetic of atonement to justify the conversion and assimilation of Indigenous peoples. Whitfield formulates two distinct apocalyptic aesthetics to envision two possible futures: a pessimistic aesthetic of annihilation in his long poem “The Vision” and a regenerative aesthetic of redemption in his poems of collective discontent, which Delany appropriated for his novel Blake to express a revolutionary consciousness. Finally, Watkins Harper’s poems cultivate an aesthetic of hope that balances a strong orientation toward the anticipated better future with rejection of present injustice and recognition of disappointment. In addition, this study pays close attention to the materiality of print in order to demonstrate its significance to thinking futurity. Reading long poems alongside newspaper poems emphasizes the status of both genres as material texts circulated in a specific print format and embedded in the contingencies of their particular historical moment. The materiality of print demystifies the autonomy of the literary imagination while revealing the literary and activist networks in which the writers participated.