Brooks, Joanna 1971-
Brooks, Joanna 1971-
University of Texas at Austin, former faculty member; San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, associate professor.
William Sanders Scarborough Award for outstanding book in African American literature, Modern Language Association, for American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures.
(Editor and author of introduction, with John Saillant) "Face Zion Forward": First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785-1798, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 2002.
(Editor) The Life of Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Lakeside Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.
English professor Joanna Brooks was born in 1971 in Los Angeles, California. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1999. Brooks then left California and began working in the English department at the University of Texas at Austin. Following this, she returned to her home state, joining San Diego State University as an associate professor of English. According to a profile of Brooks posted on the San Diego State University Web site, the scholar specializes in "American literature, including African-American literature, Native American literature, and women's studies." These subject areas are reflected in Brooks's full-length publications.
Brooks worked with John Saillant to edit "Face Zion Forward": First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785-1798, which was published in 2002. Brooks and Saillant also wrote the introduction to the volume. The works of John Marrant, David George, Boston King, and Prince Hal, most of which are sermons, are included. Marrant, George, King, and Hal are known as black Atlantic writers, thus the book's subtitle. The long introduction places the pieces in historical, social, and cultural context. The main title of the volume, "Face Zion Forward," is a quote taken from a sermon that is dubiously attributed to Marrant, a fact that the editors acknowledge. A long journal by Marrant, whose provenance is not disputed, is also included. Marrant is one of the most prominent figures featured in the volume; he was one of America's first black priests, and much of his biography has mythological elements. According to one of these myths, Marrant was spared from being killed by a Cherokee tribe when his executioner was miraculously converted to Christianity on the spot.
Several critics responded to the book with positive comments. For instance, Vincent Carretta, reviewing "Face Zion Forward" in Early American Literature, noted that the editors' extensive introduction "offers sound historical and biographical contexts for the individual texts that follow." Carretta felt that "the editors also make a strong case for the possibility of recognizing a Black consciousness beneath the veil of a White amanuensis." Although Carretta thought that the "choice to forgo annotation is particularly regrettable in the case of Marrant's 65-page-long Journal … we must be grateful to Brooks and Saillant for getting the Journal at last into print." Following this line of reasoning, Carretta concluded: "Quibbles aside, we should welcome "Face Zion Forward" for giving us reliable transcriptions of a number of hitherto difficult-to-find texts presented in their historical context."
Brooks's second full-length publication is American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures. Published in 2003, the volume was awarded the William Sanders Scarborough Award for an outstanding book in African American literature by the Modern Language Association. The volume is an examination of little-known works by obscure writers, including Native American and African American authors of the eighteenth century. The pieces were predominantly written during the period in colonial America known as the Great Awakening. Brooks begins the volume with a history of this era, setting the context for the works discussed. While the topic of Native American and African American writing may at first appear disparate, Brooks shows that the two communities interacted with one another fairly frequently during this era. Some of the figures Brooks discusses include Samson Occom, a Mohegan minister; John Marrant, whom Brooks featured in her first book and who was influenced by Occom during his lifetime; and Richard Allen and Absolam Jones, authors of the 1794 work The Narrative of the Black People.
American Lazarus met with a warm critical reception. Lamont DeHaven King, reviewing the book in the Journal of African American History, stated that Brooks successfully establishes "that revivalism threatened not only established churches, but also the entire social order." According to King, Brooks proves that "while European American authors imagined America as a pristine Adam, black authors adopted the persona of Lazarus—writing, singing, and preaching survival over and resistance to slavery and racism through a sense of community." Following this line of reasoning, King found that "this important theme, coupled with Brooks's erudite and detailed analysis of the historical context, makes American Lazarus an excellent work for students in the social sciences and humanities, as well as for anyone interested in furthering their understanding of the malleability of racial and ethnic identity."
Brooks's American Lazarus is drawn from her portrayal of the Native American and African American communities of the time as being akin to the biblical figure of Lazarus, who rose from the grave. Discussing this analogy in Christianity and Literature, Walter A. Hesford observed that Brooks's "introduction contrasts the figure of the American Lazarus with that of the much-celebrated American Adam. While the latter is supposedly free from the burden of history and community, the former represents the collective historical death and resurrection of African Americans and Native Americans." Hesford also noted that "the title of Brooks's book purposely invites comparison with R.W.B. Lewis's The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1955), which, Brooks claims, is ‘abidingly influential’ and thus provides a convenient foil for her work." Commenting further on Brooks's thesis, Hesford stated that the author "argues that all of these authors had roots in eighteenth-century evangelical movements … and used their religion and marginalized status to critique Enlightenment racism. They thereby gained a voice for themselves and their communities." According to Hesford, "Brooks sees herself as a ‘revivalist’ effecting the resurrection of texts that, like Lazarus, have lain dormant if not dead."
A more recent work by Brooks is The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America, which was published in 2006. The book, which Brooks edited, is a collection of the previously undiscovered works of Samson Occom.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, September 1, 2003, A.J. Guillaume, review of "Face Zion Forward": First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785-1798, p. 147; September 1, 2003, review of "Face Zion Forward," p. 147; March 1, 2004, L. Antonette, review of American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures, p. 1294.
Christianity and Literature, March 22, 2004, Walter A. Hesford, review of American Lazarus, p. 411.
Church History, December 1, 2006, Joel W. Martin, review of American Lazarus, p. 941.
Early American Literature, January 1, 2004, Vincent Carretta, review of "Face Zion Forward," p. 175; March 22, 2005, Laura Murray, review of American Lazarus, p. 395.
English Language Notes, March 22, 2006, "An Old Historicism, Reborn," p. 275; March 22, 2006, "Regenerating and Redeeming American Literary Studies," p. 271.
Journal of African American History, September 22, 2004, Lamont DeHaven King, review of American Lazarus, p. 362.
Journal of American History, December 1, 2004, Timothy B. Powell, review of American Lazarus, p. 998.
New England Quarterly, September 1, 2005, Eileen Razzari Elrod, review of American Lazarus, p. 486.
William and Mary Quarterly, July 1, 2003, Phillip Gould, review of "Face Zion Forward," p. 680.
San Diego State University Web site,http://wwwrohan.sdsu.edu/ (May 29, 2008), faculty profile.