Jon Gjerde Prize for Best Book in Midwestern History (Midwestern History Association), Honorable Mention
“Taylor crafts a book that should be read by all who have an interest in understanding the roots of slavery and oppression of women during the pre–Civil War era. It should also be read by those seeking to understand the depth of pain and depravity faced by women living under the tyranny of American slavery.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“In this brief book, Taylor sets the context, reviews the known actions, and applies a genuinely multidisciplinary set of tools to understand a mother maybe driven to madness. The author peels away layers of analysis of Garner as archfiend or feminist and abolitionist hero to discover what she calls an intensely personal act, even if one fraught with political consequences. Summing Up: Recommended.”
“Taylor vividly portrays the sufferings Garner and her family endured under slavery and in their attempt to escape from it, placing their experiences in the wider context of the antebellum Midwest.… Readers of [Toni Morrison’s Beloved] will … appreciate the ways that Taylor illuminates the gendered experience of enslavement.”
Margaret Garner was the runaway slave who, when confronted with capture just outside of Cincinnati, slit the throat of her toddler daughter rather than have her face a life in slavery. Her story has inspired Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a film based on the novel starring Oprah Winfrey, and an opera. Yet, her life has defied solid historical treatment. In Driven toward Madness, Nikki M. Taylor brilliantly captures her circumstances and her transformation from a murdering mother to an icon of tragedy and resistance.
Taylor, the first African American woman to write a history of Garner, grounds her approach in black feminist theory. She melds history with trauma studies to account for shortcomings in the written record. In so doing, she rejects distortions and fictionalized images; probes slavery’s legacies of sexual and physical violence and psychic trauma in new ways; and finally fleshes out a figure who had been rendered an apparition.
Nikki M. Taylor is a professor of African American history at Howard University. Her other books include Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802–1868 and America’s First Black Socialist: The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark.
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