Sarah Jessica Johnson

Sarah Jessica Johnson
Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow in English
  • Department of English
Rosenwald 411

My research and teaching are both concerned with seventeenth through nineteenth-century archives of slavery and marronage in the United States and Caribbean. I am interested in how resistance practices and flight from enslavement by Black and Native individuals in the Caribbean and North America shaped textual and visual production in the colonial period. I teach transnational literary histories of slave and maroon narratives, constructions of gender, race and forms of bondage before 1850, as well as courses on archival theory and method.

My current book project, Forms of Escape: Maroons and Marronage in Fiction and the Archive, explores the narratives of historical and fictional maroon individuals as examples of how practices of marronage shape narrative and archival form in eighteenth and nineteenth-century anglophone and francophone U.S. and Caribbean texts. I argue for how historical marronage is often represented differently than other forms of flight and freedom from slavery. Crucial to this study is an archival paradox: Maroons absented themselves from the printed record, eschewed the position of author, only to be figured and represented by others who, expectedly, struggled with the depiction of a practice they could not know firsthand.

I am also working on a project concerning the woman called “Tituba, the Indian,” who was one of the first people accused in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93. In this work, I examine Tituba’s testimony and subsequent representations of her life as refracted through the past and present carceral state in North America. My thinking about Tituba has been bolstered by my ongoing collaboration with the performance artist Marisa Williamson, in tandem with my recurring undergraduate course “Black in Colonial America: Three Women,” on a project called Room , that makes storytelling space for Tituba, Sally Hemings and Phillis Wheatley.

My translation of the short story “Bras-Coupé” was published in Transition in 2015. Originally written in French by Louis-Armand Garreau, the story depicts the escape, marronage and revenge of an enslaved man in French colonial Louisiana who comes to be known as le Bras-Coupé. A reprint of this translation can be found in the volume The Life and Legend of Bras-Coupé, published by Louisiana State University Press in 2019. This work is part of my ongoing effort to translate eighteenth and nineteenth-century Francophone Louisiana texts.


Spring 2019, Black in Colonial America: Three Women
Fall 2020, Archive [Yellow] Fever

Selected Publications

  • “Make Room,” Portable Gray 4 (Spring 2020). In press.
  • “Translating the Revolution from Haiti to Louisiana” in Caribbean Literature in Transition, Volume One: 1800-1920 edited by Timothy Watson and Evelyn O’Callaghan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In press.
  • “On the Altar of San Malo,” Call and Response 1 (March 2020). In press.
  • “Bras-Coupé,” a French to English translation with introduction. Transition 117 (May 2015): 23-39. Reprinted as “Louis-Armand Garreau, ‘Bras Coupé’ (1856)” in The Life and Legend of Bras-Coupé edited by Bryan Wagner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019.
  • Education

    Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2018. Teaching at Chicago since 2018.