First African-American woman novelist revisited

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-07-23 02:24Z by Steven

First African-American woman novelist revisited

Harvard University Gazette
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ken Gewertz, Harvard News Office

Harriet Wilson was a survivor. Now we have proof.

Wilson wrote “Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of A Free Black,” the earliest known novel by an African-American woman. It tells the story of Frado, a young biracial girl born in freedom in New Hampshire who becomes an indentured servant to a tyrannical and abusive white woman. In 1859, when the book was published, the abolitionist movement had created a vogue among Northern readers for autobiographies of escaped slaves, but Wilson’s story of a free black abused by her Northern employer did not fit the established mold, and the novel soon fell into obscurity.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, found a copy of the novel in a used bookstore in the early 1980s and was intrigued by it. Among those specialists who were aware of the book, many doubted whether it was really the work of a black writer, but Gates wondered why anyone in 1859 would identify herself as black unless she were.

He started searching for evidence of Wilson’s existence and eventually succeeded in documenting her life up to 1863. The facts he uncovered closely resembled the events in the life of the novel’s protagonist. Gates, who published his findings in a 1983 edition of the novel, concluded that Wilson must have died around the time the historical trail went cold.

Now evidence has surfaced showing that Wilson survived almost another 40 years, demonstrating in other areas of endeavor the resilience and creativity that allowed her to try her hand at writing.

P. Gabrielle Foreman, associate professor of English and American Studies at Occidental College in California, and Reginald Pitts, a historical researcher and genealogical consultant, spoke Friday (March 18) about information they have uncovered about the latter half of Wilson’s life. The event was sponsored by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and the Department of African and African American Studies. Foreman and Pitts have incorporated their research into an introduction to a new edition of Wilson’s novel (Penguin Classics, 2005)…

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Student-Organized Conference To Focus on ‘Mixed-Race Experience’

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-10-15 20:30Z by Steven

Student-Organized Conference To Focus on ‘Mixed-Race Experience’

Havard University Gazette

Ken Gewertz, Gazette Staff

For many of us, food can be a powerful reminder of who we are and where we come from.

But the foods that Rebecca Weisinger ’02 remembers from her family dinner table were a little different from most.

“Sometimes my mom would make Chinese dishes and then add potatoes to them, or she would serve sauerkraut on the side,” Weisinger said

This combination of cuisines seemed natural in Weisinger’s family because her mother is a Chinese-American from Hawaii and her father a German-American from Wisconsin. The two met when they were students at M.I.T.

This makes Weisinger a mixed-race American, one of a rapidly expanding group that has been receiving considerable attention of late. According to one estimate, mixed-race births are increasing at a rate 260 times as fast as all births combined. In some urban centers, one in every six babies is multiracial. Census experts estimate that by 2050, there will be over 27 million biracial and multiracial Americans…

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