Academic journal article African American Review

Foreword

Academic journal article African American Review

Foreword

Article excerpt

The recent publication of The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride in book form for the first time challenges all who are interested in 19th-century African American literary history to take a fresh look at the story of black women's writing that we've been piecing together over the last quarter century. The particular chapter that The Curse of Caste will help us re-conceive is the key 10-year stretch in the evolution of African American women's narratives from 1859 to 1869. The Curse of Caste helps us see more clearly than ever how African American women writers moved from what we might call today creative non-fiction into fully-fledged works of fiction.

Twenty-five years ago we began to receive the first indications from Jean Fagan Yellin's early research suggesting that Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), considered by many scholars to have been a novel written by its white editor, Lydia Maria Child, was actually the self-authored autobiography of a black woman, Harriet Jacobs. Hard on the heels of these discoveries came Henry Louis Gates's paradigm-shifting revelation that Our Nig (1859), a book of which most scholars of African American literature were unaware, was actually the product of the pen of a formerly indentured African American servant, Harriet Wilson. Suddenly the long-standing lacuna in African American women's narrative history between the Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850) and Frances Ellen Watkins's Iola Leroy (1892)--which most of us thought was the earliest novel by an African American woman--began to close. The two emergent texts by Jacobs and Wilson intrigued and spurred us to look more carefully at the way that autobiography in the hands of black women gradually morphed into fiction in the middle of the century.

By the end of the 1980s Our Nig and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl had entered the canon of African American women's narrative as foundational texts, the former adjudged the first novel and the latter the first autobiography "written by herself. …

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