Joshua Bennett


On his book Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man

Cover Interview of July 29, 2020


My hope for the book is that it lives a long life, and that it is ultimately considered a meaningful contribution to the growing constellation of texts examining both the history and present workings of black critical theory concerned with nonhuman life-worlds. I also hope—and I have said this elsewhere—that the book’s engagement with the work of black poets is a reminder that poetry plays an absolutely central role within both black letters and black social life. Here I’m thinking, of course, of Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley as some of our earliest literary ancestors in terms of the written page. But I’m also thinking about the role—as Hortense Spillers so beautifully details in her stunning 1974 dissertation, Fabrics of History: Essays on the Black Sermon—of black preaching as the first form of black poetry in the U.S. context. The tone and texture of this book (and all my writing, really) was influenced in the first instance by black preaching. Given those conditions of emergence, I hope, whatever its merits are, that my book shines a light on the aesthetic brilliance of black writing, black performance, and black poetics, as they operate outside the borders of the U.S. American academy.

I hope as well that the book contributes to a renewed interest in the writings of all the authors whose work I have explored within its pages. The discovery of this particular thread in their works has changed my life in so many distinct, divergent ways—my intellectual, aesthetic, political, and spiritual sensibilities have never been the same—and so it is one of my dreams for the book that it likewise inspires others to think about the work of environmental reparation and black freedom struggle as fundamentally intertwined.

Finally, I hope that the book serves as a useful entrée into the contemporary workings of black literary studies as such for anyone who might be unfamiliar with the field. Our work, I believe, is one that comes with a singular responsibility. It was Carter G. Woodson who once wrote that there would “be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.” Our collective project, then, is not only the repudiation of lies about the role of our people in history, but the forwarding of new images, new language, a more robust and truthful engagement with the indomitable beauty of the black expressive tradition, and all that it has given us.