Lucy Parsons on the Boundary of the Archive
For over fifty years the anarchist activist Lucy Parsons was one of America’s most problematic voices. Following her husband's 1887 execution in Chicago for involvement with the Haymarket Affair, her writings and passionate oratory made her a byword for urban rabble-rousing. The Illinois authorities sought to silence her, considering her “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” Yet she became an international radical icon and remained a prominent activist into her 80s, until her death in a 1942 housefire.
Despite her notoriety and longevity Parsons poses a number of crucial problems for life writers. Her strategic elusiveness about her origins and racial identity, her efforts to circumvent print censorship, and the seizure of her papers upon her death by the Chicago police leave those seeking to write her life left to operate at the boundary of the archive. Tom Wright will consider some of these issues, and about the current project he is undertaking on Parsons.
Dr. Tom F. Wright is a specialist in American and British literature and culture of the nineteenth century at the University of Sussex. Wright is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, a co-founder of the British Association for Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and the editor of a collection on popular lecturing, entitled The Cosmopolitan Lyceum: Lecture Culture and the Globe in Nineteenth-Century America. His first book, Lecturing the Atlantic: Speech, Print and an Anglo-American Commons, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.