Black American Prose Writers: Before the Harlem Renaissance

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Pauline E. Hopkins

PAULINE ELIZABETH HOPKINS was born in 1859 in Portland, Maine, the daughter of Northrup and Sarah Allen Hopkins. Shortly after her birth her parents moved to Boston, where she attended the public schools. At fifteen she won a writing contest sponsored by William Wells Brown and the Congregational Publishing Society on the theme of temperance.

Hopkins's first literary work was a play, Slaves' Escape; or, The Underground Railroad, written in 1879 and produced the next year by a touring group organized by her family, the Hopkins' Colored Troubadours, in which her mother, her stepfather, and Hopkins herself acted. The play was later published as Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad, although the date of publication is not known. Hopkins earned considerable renown as an actress and singer, acquiring the nickname "Boston's Favorite Soprano." She also wrote at least one further play, One Scene from the Drama of Early Days, but it was apparently never performed and the manuscript is now lost.

Around 1892 Hopkins enrolled in a stenography course and earned her livelihood in this profession for several years, working for four years at the Bureau of Statistics. In 1900 the founding of the Colored American magazine changed the course of her career and her writing. She began writing voluminously for the magazine, and by the second issue had joined its staff. Her earliest work for it was a short story, "The Mystery within Us," published in the magazine's first issue (May 1900).

Hopkins's one separately published novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South, was issued in 1900 by the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company, the publisher of Colored American. This historical romance of a love affair between a mulatto, Will Smith, and an octoroon, Sappho Clark, is a powerful examination of the life of black women within white society, and touches upon many fundamental issues of black social life. Although it employs many of the conventions of the popular sentimental romance of the period, it probes such concerns as the


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Black American Prose Writers: Before the Harlem Renaissance


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