Day 18 of 28 – Black History Month – Harriet E. Wilson

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

The first African-American to publish a novel in North America was Harriet E. Wilson. What an accomplishment, especially for a woman born a ‘free person of color’ in 1825. Her novel, “Our Nig” was copyrighted and dropped off at the Office of the Clerk, U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. While it was largely ignored (since it was published anonymously), it was given new life when Henry Louis Gates Jr. rediscovered it in 1982. It made national headlines, and it is a testament to ambition to very quietly release her work to the world, while still maintaining credit for it.

Frado, the protagonist of “Our Nig” is of mixed-race, just like the author. It is a sobering tale of Frado’s trials and tribulations that was so common of her time: rape, out of wedlock children, mixed identities. Frado struggles with her self-worth and faces the lack of value she has in other’s eyes.

Harriet E. Wilson lived an active life in her community, making floral arrangements, candy for children and working as a nurse. She also participated in little plays. There has been no evidence that she wrote anything else. Perhaps, knowing she wrote a novel was gratification enough.

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