William Wells Brown, Frances E.W. Harper, and Charles W. Chesnutt, three black writers who bore witness to the experience of their people under slavery, create a portrait of black life in the 19th century in these three novels.
About the Author
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The author of numerous books, including the widely acclaimed memoir Colored People, Professor Gates has also edited several anthologies and is coeditor with Kwame Anthony Appiah of Encarta Africana, an encyclopedia of the African Diaspora. An influential cultural critic, he is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and other publications and is the recipient of many honors, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the National Humanities Medal.
William Wells Brown (ca. 1814–1884) was an abolitionist and social reformer best remembered as the United States’ first black novelist and playwright, as well as one of the earliest African-American historians. After escaping from slavery on New Year’s Day in 1834, he went on to publish a bestselling memoir, a collection of antislavery songs, the novel Clotel, and many other highly regarded works.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is one of the true unsung heroes on the 19th century. Harper was an African American abolitionist, suffragist, poet, and author. A principal member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Harper was a chief leader in petitioning the federal government into taking a greater role in progressive reform. Some of her titles include Trial and Triumph; Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted; and Sowing and Reaping. Harper was born in 1825 and died in 1911.
Charles Chesnutt (1858–1932) was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He drew on his experiences as a biracial American to address racial passing in his classic novel The House Behind the Cedars. Earning a living as a court stenographer and lawyer, Chesnutt supported a writing career that included the publication of numerous short stories and the completion of several other novels, some of which were considered too incendiary to be printed during his time. An active integrationist and civil rights leader, he was awarded a medal by the NAACP for distinguished literary contributions.