Classic African American Women's Narratives

Classic African American Women's Narratives

Classic African American Women's Narratives

Classic African American Women's Narratives

Synopsis

Classic African American Women's Narratives offers teachers, students, and general readers a one-volume collection of the most memorable and important prose written by African American women before 1865. The book reproduces the canon of African American women's fiction and autobiography during the slavery era in U.S. history. Each text in the volume represents a "first." Maria Stewart's Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality (1831) was the first political tract authored by an African American woman. Jarena Lee's Life and Religious Experience (1836) was the first African American woman's spiritual autobiography. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850) was the first slave narrative to focus on the experience of a female slave in the United States. Frances E. W. Harper's "The Two Offers" (1859) was the first short story published by an African American woman. Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig (1859) was the first novel written by an African American woman. Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) was the first autobiography authored by an African American woman. Charlotte Forten's "Life on the Sea Islands" (1864) was the first contribution by an African American woman to a major American literary magazine (the Atlantic Monthly). Complemented with an introduction by William L. Andrews, this is the only one-volume collection to gather the most important works of the first great era of African American women's writing.

Excerpt

O, ye daughters of Africa, awake! awake! arise! no longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves. Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties. O, ye daughters of Africa! what have ye done to immortalize your names beyond the grave? what examples have ye set before the rising generation? what foundation have ye laid for generations yet unborn?

—M ARIA W. S TEWART (1831)

In October 1831, only a few weeks after the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, had electrified the United States, a black woman named Maria W. Stewart stepped into the printing office of a newly launched Boston antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, to ask its editor, William Lloyd Garrison, to publish a pamphlet she had written. Hitherto unknown to Garrison, Stewart brought with her no credentials as a writer or a journalist. The 28-year-old widow had been inspired by her recent conversion to Christianity and by the life and writing of David Walker, whose militant opposition to slavery and championing of African American unity and pride had found fearless expression in David Walker's Appeal in 1829. Some, including slaveholders in the South, whom many blamed for Walker's mysterious death in 1830, thought the Appeal had incited Nat Turner to preach violence against whites. Maria Stewart's manuscript, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build, which Garrison swiftly published, echoed Walker's demands for justice and freedom for black people North and South. “we claim our rights, ” Stewart thundered, prophesying ominously to white America: “Dark . . .

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