This book took shape over a number of years, and I am pleased to
acknowledge the many friends, colleagues, archivists, and institutions
that sustained me throughout the process of writing it. Although I
began this project after I had completed my doctoral dissertation, I
owe a tremendous debt to those individuals at Stanford University
without whose assistance I would never have completed graduate
school. First and foremost, I wish to thank Shirley Brice Heath, whose
friendship, unflagging support, and scholarly integrity made a lasting
impression on my work. Even before I had finished my dissertation,
she encouraged me to pursue my interest in African American literary
societies, and she has extended herself in innumerable ways to support
me personally and professionally. I am also indebted to Rob Polhe-
mus, George Dekker, Ramón Saldívar, and Diane Middlebrook, all of
whom proved to be inspired teachers, careful readers, and constructive
critics, even after my o≈cial days as a student were over.
Throughout the years, funding from several sources supported my
research and writing. Much of the research for the book was con-
ducted while I was a fellow at Harvard University’s W. E. B. Du Bois
Institute for Afro-American Research, where I was supported for one
year by the Ford Foundation and then for another by a teaching/
research fellowship from the College of the Holy Cross. Given the
Du Bois Institute’s enthusiastic sta√ and the rich intellectual atmo-
sphere cultivated there, I was ideally situated to begin thinking about
nineteenth-century African American readers and the various coali-
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