Literary Recovery in an Age of Austerity: A Review of Early American Reprints and Just Teach One

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



University of Nebraska Press


This essay reviews two current literary recovery projects— the Early American Reprints (ear) series and the Just Teach One (jto) project— that together provide some perspective on the state of literary recovery today.2 But as a way to frame these recent efforts, I’d like to begin by foregrounding two observations that emerged from the 2009 discussion. The first was the consensus that, despite the significant recovery of writing by nineteenth- century women writers, a great deal of work remained to be done to identify and make available earlier texts by women, especially those that circulated during those decades of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that have so often gone missing from American literary histories and anthologies. The second was the concern, repeated as an anxious refrain throughout the issue, about the lifespan of recovery projects. Karen Kilcup refers to this problem as “the danger of re- disappearance” (319), and Pattie Cowell identifies it as the “fragility” of recovery efforts, in which it is “so easy to imagine a world in which the gains of recent decades will be forgotten again,” just as they have “so many times before” (qtd. in Tuttle 228). Jean Lutes similarly notes that “the recovery of writers does not guarantee that they will remain recovered, and too often women’s work is uncovered only to be neglected yet again” (qtd. in Tuttle 230), while Susan Tomlinson observes that “[r]ecovery work is never obsolete and never done! It’s been distressing to watch texts fall out of print— again and again— and I dread the impact of this current economic crisis on publishing” (qtd. in Tuttle 232). Why are recovery efforts so fragile, so fleeting? What conditions enable a few books to sustain long lives in print while so many others fall out of print and return to oblivion? And what, if anything, might scholars and teachers do to remedy this unevenness, to build a strong, diverse, and lasting selection of texts by early American women writers?


A Review of Early American Reprints and Just Teach One