Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers

In this extensive anthology edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Penguin Classics has collected some of the most extensive writings of African American women writers around the time of the Civil War.  This is a huge achievement as these authors have been often ignored and lost in time.  This new collection brings them together and makes their voice heard so that modern readers can experience some of the things that made up their lives.

There are poems, speeches, excerpts from novels and letters to the editor and opinion pieces.  They speak of the daily injustices these women experienced.  Banned from learning while slaves, they were then mocked for ignorance.  Their families torn asunder by cruel owners that broke the family ties by selling some member many miles away and raped by owners who regarded sex as another perk of ownership, they are then reviled for promiscuity and lack of family feeling.

Yet there is so much hope in these writings.  Hope as they document the achievements of those of their race.  Hope that they can band together and help others be educated and break out of the mire of poverty.  Hope that one day they will be recognized for their worth as individuals not just as oddities who have managed to rise above their circumstances. 

Hollis Robbins is the Director of the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University and Chair of the Humanities Department at the Peabody Institute.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.  Together they have collected and made available the work of writers such as Sojourner Truth, Hannah Crafts/Bond, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Edmonia Goodelle Highgate, Julia Collins, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Fanny M. Jackson Coppin.  It is an important and eye-opening work that shows the range of interests and causes that inspired these women.  This book is recommended for history and feminist readers.

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