Geoffrey Sanborn

“How fitting that William Wells Brown, the first African American novelist, would be revealed to be the living incarnation of Brer Rabbit himself. A riveting read, generously researched and provocative, not just in terms of William Wells Brown but in terms of how we think about the very timeless issue of creative plagiarism. In Plagiarama!, Geoffrey Sanborn once again shows himself to be a rare treasure: a brilliant critic who is also a thrilling storyteller. This is literary critical history at its best.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day and Pym


“For years, critics have word danced around William Wells Brown’s habitual acts of ‘lifting,’ ‘borrowing,’ and ‘adapting’ printed texts without attribution. Not Geoffrey Sanborn, who exuberantly names Brown’s signature aesthetic practice ‘plagiarama!’ Dazzlingly original and unvaryingly astute in explicating Brown’s performance art, Sanborn also has bigger game in mind, demonstrating the centrality of literary experimentation and unfettered theatricality—often remote from supposed origins in slavery and race—in early African American writing. Altogether impressive, Plagiarama! stages an eye-opening critical performance.” —Ezra Greenspan, Southern Methodist University


“Through an impressive feat of research, Geoffrey Sanborn has discovered that William Wells Brown lifted a major portion of his writing from other sources. Yet far from evincing a lack of creativity, Sanborn argues how Brown’s plagiarisms take an extravagantly transformative approach to language. By setting different texts end to end, Brown stirs and dilates public culture, sounding the impossible in the known world.” —Lara Cohen, Swarthmore College

“Exquisitely curated with appropriate supporting documents and furnished with an expert introduction, Geoffrey Sanborn’s edition of William Wells Brown’s Clotel will prove to be a welcome text to students and generalists interested in the literature and history of chattel slavery in the U.S., as well as to specialists working in African-American Studies.” —Ivy Wilson, Northwestern University


“Geoffrey Sanborn’s edition of Clotel offers readers a clear understanding of its richness, complexity, and value to American literature. In a lucid introduction that allows us to understand Brown’s work in relation to his contemporaries, and in meticulously researched notes and appendices, Sanborn invites twenty-first-century audiences to experience the pleasure and power of Clotel.” —Tess Chakkalakal, Bowdoin College

“This lucid book is critically and historically illuminating, and immensely pleasurable... Sketching Sanborn’s intriguing claims does not begin to capture the charm of his project, which is so readable, even captivating, such a startling and rewarding engagement with both men and literature.” —Dana Nelson, Journal of American Studies

“Sanborn argues that Cooper’s Magua and Melville’s Queequeg were informed by popular depictions of Te Ara and Te Pehi Kupe, Maori rangatira (chiefs), and that overlooking the Maori connection has caused many to misinterpret Magua and Queequeg. Reading these fictional characters alongside Te Ara and Te Pehi Kupe leads, for Sanborn, to the claim that Magua is not the embodiment of the ‘bad Indian’ and Queequeg is not the embodiment of human love... Sanborn’s work offers fresh proof that thinking transnationally can help us both recover lesser-known stories and reconsider the ones we think we know.” —Rochelle Raineri Zuck, Studies in the Novel

“It is one thing to make mana an analytic quality and to give examples of it, quite another to register it in one’s writing, to make one's own book ‘a counterpart’ of ‘everything whose magnitude is truly great.’ That, supremely, is what Melville achieves with Moby-Dick. I also respond to this quality in Call Me Ishmael and a handful of other top-shelf books about or inspired by Melville. Sanborn’s book is of that high company... This book would be a remarkable achievement on the basis of its scholarship alone, but it is also a work of great empathy and imagination. Sanborn has traveled to islands east of Oz and, like Dorothy in the film, opened a door onto new contexts and let the Technicolor in.” —Alex Calder, Leviathan

“Breaks new ground... Unlike those who find Melville’s texts simply reproductive of the epistemological and racial assumptions of Western, colonial consciousness, Sanborn reads for those moments when Melville’s narratives expose the limits of that consciousness. And he does this in a unique and interesting way: by focusing on how representations of cannibals and cannibalism in Melville’s texts often show the Western concept of ‘humanity’ to be a rhetorical trope produced, in part, by stories of cannibalism.” —Peter Norberg, Leviathan

“Geoffrey Sanborn has written a compelling book, impressively reappraising Melville’s fiction in light of postcolonial theories, primarily Homi Bhabha’s reflections on mimicry... What makes Sanborn’s book both exciting and insightful is his facility with the literary, historical, and theoretical levels of his argument.” —Kendall Johnson, American Literature

The Sign of the Cannibal shows Melville to be a writer for our times... After a fascinating introduction to cannibalism as a prevalent theme in post-enlightenment imperialism, the book details Melville’s strategic use of it in Typee, Moby-Dick, and ‘Benito Cereno’ to undercut racist stereotypes and evolve a ‘postcolonial’ way of understanding the cultural contact at the center of the nineteenth-century experience. Sanborn’s extensive research offers numerous compelling insights into Melville’s works and their relationship to their historical milieu.” —Bryan Short, Studies in the Novel

“This collection of essays makes an essential contribution to American literary scholarship by expanding the hermeneutical possibilities of theory and practice as well as enriching our understanding of Melville's literary works... [The essays] provide foundational points of illumination and disputation for any reader interested in what aesthetic criticism can accomplish.” —John Samson, R19

Melville and Aesthetics provides a snapshot of Melville criticism as it is currently practiced by some of the field’s most accomplished interpreters. The volume treats a wide range of texts by Melville, including the poetry, and essay after essay wrestles with Melville’s astonishing stylistic achievements with intelligence and verve. This is a volume that will be welcomed by students and specialists alike.” —Jonathan Elmer

Melville and Aesthetics gives us a set of elegant and interpretively rich essays that add up to a powerful argument about the essential place of aesthetics in Melville's career. The ‘extravagant qualities of Melville's lines,’ to use Otter and Sanborn’s phrase, are made visible and analytically vital as never before.” —Cindy Weinstein