Sherman’s Invisible Poets pioneered in the rediscovery of nineteenth-century Afro-American literature. Black poets of that century not only were invisible: they were also forced to publish ‘mute’ texts, texts doomed not to be read because of the pervasive racism in American society. Sherman’s work of literary resurrection is a signal achievement, combining deft historical detective work with a subtle critical sensibility.
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard
Invisible Poets: Afro-Americans of the Nineteenth Century brings into view over 130 other Black men and women who published poetry in America during the century between Phillis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar. In spite of their impressive achievements, these poets’ works have been out of print, their few biographies incomplete and unreliable, and criticism of their poetry rare and often biased. The author, Joan R. Sherman, was ahead of her time in seeking “to strip myth and misinformation from their lives and to offer the most accurate biographies and bibliographies obtainable after a century of neglect.” In the only comprehensive and realistic appraisal of their contributions to American literature, Sherman intensively studies twenty-six representative poets of the nineteenth century, analyzing their poetry and providing the first significant profiles of their extraordinary life experiences. About three dozen other poets also receive attention. Their work, which ranges from “militant, race-proud jeremiads to sentimental nature and love lyrics,” faithfully conforms to nineteenth-century poetic standards. At the same time, it reflects the changing American political and cultural scene and provides an invaluable record of over a hundred years of Black experience as articulated by sensitive and talented American writers.