The Discovery of the First Black Female NovelistRoundup: Talking About History
tags: African American history
(The Root) -- Each February, the Swann Auction Galleries in New York City holds an auction of rare artifacts from the black past. It features all sorts of treasures, like slave chains and other instruments of torture, daguerreotypes and sepia-tinged photographs, rare books and lithographs and occasionally handwritten manuscripts, usually letters but sometimes something as rare as a work of literature written by a canonical author such as Phillis Wheatley, let's say. That auction is like taking a trip in a time machine to the black past; think of it as "black to the future." Anyway, scholars and collectors look forward to receiving the beautifully edited four-color catalog that rare-book dealer Wyatt Houston Day prepares each year for the auction with the same anticipation that children look forward to Christmas morning.
The catalog for 2001 contained an entry that riveted me. It was entitled The Bondwoman's Narrative, written by a woman named Hannah Crafts. It purported to be a "301-page handwritten manuscript purportedly written by a female fugitive slave." The manuscript was being put up for auction by the estate of my old friend, Howard University librarian and editor Dorothy Porter Wesley, who had actually mentioned the manuscript to me years before when I authenticated the identity of Harriet E. Wilson, who published the novel Our Nig in 1859, still the first novel actually appearing in print and written by a black woman (in this case, by a free Northern woman who had been an indentured servant). Dorothy told me that she had a treasure that was even more rare and valuable than Our Nig tucked away in a file cabinet, but she was too busy to undertake any thorough research about it or its author.
To be honest, I really thought that she was just playing the dozens with me -- that is, until I read the Swann catalog. Now here was that same manuscript, which, according to the note in the catalog, Dorothy thought was authentic. I decided that I would purchase it and see....
comments powered by Disqus
- Human Evolution: Walking Upright Evolved at Least 3.6 Million Years Ago—Long Before Modern Humans Appeared
- Why a primary challenge to Trump is likely to fail
- Smog and Disasters Spurred the Laws Trump Wants to Undo
- After Sylvester Stallone Call, Trump Considers ‘Full Pardon’ of Long-Dead Black Boxer
- Disclosed: Journalist helped defuse a budding conflict between the US and Cuba in 1964
- Dartmouth historian Matthew J. Garcia says conservative partisans in Arizona have taken over a civics school he once ran
- Berkeley’s Carolyn Merchant explains what ecofeminism is
- University of Southern California's David Kang says Korea is the only place on earth where the Cold War continues
- W.R. Smyser, U.S. diplomat turned historian of postwar Germany, dies at 86
- Max Boot: North Korea is conning Donald Trump yet again