F.E.W. Harper: the case of a forgotten black woman writer

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Another unusual thing about F.E.W. Harper is that there are a lot of pictures of her. She’s younger in this one, about in her 40’s.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the greatest black woman writer was Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Yes, exactly.  Who?  And that’s the shame of it.  Anything can make such a seismic shift in over 100 years.  Or more.

Harper was a writer who wrote both prose and poetry in the latter half of the nineteenth century. She is credited with being the first African American (man or woman) to write a short story called “Two Offers.” If you have a chance to read it, it still holds up—the basic premise is that women shouldn’t marry for anyone old reason.  Keep in mind, she was writing this in 1856.

She was long credited with being the first African American woman to write a novel, Iola Leroy in 1892.  Scholarship showed someone else did it in 1859.  Still, even when that discovery occurred, scholars discovered Harper bested her own novel writing record when in the 1990’s it was discovered that she had published three novels in serialized form in the 1870’s in The Christian Recorder, a newspaper widely circulated in the A.M.E. membership.  Serialization was the same way Charles Dickens published his novels, and yet, no one forgot him.

This woman, born to free black parents in Baltimore could have easily lived her writing life without worrying about anyone or anything else. She did marry and have a daughter. This personal hallmark, coupled with her incredible output of multiple volumes of poetry, serialized novels, essays, short stories, and the success of Iola Leroy, was enough to keep any woman writer busy. But Harper also had a very busy lecturing career.  She managed in her public persona, to win friends and influence by lecturing against slavery.  After the Civil War, she continued to lecture…sometimes twice a day, on lecture for temperance, and the education and welfare of the freed slaves.  Not everyone was receptive to hearing a black woman speak in public in the latter half of the nineteenth century, but most who heard her heard her agree—Harper had a magic touch.

So why don’t we know her now?  Literary fashion changed in the United States after Harper’s death in 1911.  There’s also the “problem” that she was equally gifted in two different genres of writing.  Literary circles tend to prefer writers write one thing and stick with it.  Scholars question anyone who can do both—except for Poe.  He did both and didn’t get a hard time and we still know him.  Could it be that we have forgotten Harper and her achievements for other reasons?  Scholar Frances Smith Foster thinks so and says so in her introduction of the Harper compendium A Brighter Coming Day. “Harper is but one of many writers, particularly women, whose literary reputations have suffered because of this shift in values, or perhaps more accurately, the ascendancy of a literary elite in partnership with the publishing industry.”

Such an amazing woman would be a favorite poet of an educated woman like Amanda Smithson.  So when Harper comes to visit Milford College in The Representative’s Revolt, it’s very likely that these two women will find a great deal to bond over—including their daughters who are of similar age.  I hope you look forward to their meeting on the page as much as I do.

 

Go on The Mayor’s Mission

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You may have missed it in the Christmas holiday run up and the downturn afterward:  Book #2 in the “Home to Milford College” series was released! The Mayor’s Mission continues the love story between Virgil and Amanda and sees them through some rough patches in their marriage.

I’ll keep you posted as to when I have the print version uploaded!

Book 2 available now!

Book 2 available now!

 

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Mayors-Mission-Home-Milford-College-ebook/dp/B00RGVPM9A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420935944&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Mayor%27s+Mission

Nook:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-mayors-mission-piper-huguley/1120968964?ean=2940149855735

My word for 2015

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I did not even notice that she put Shine in a different color thread. Wow.

I did not even notice that she put Shine in a different color thread. Wow.

I don’t know where the custom started, but it’s a good one.  Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, people will select a word that they hope will shape the year. My word in 2013 was Perseverance (the word of the year always goes in caps–lol), in 2014 it was Risk.  Given that 2014 was a great year in terms of my writing endeavors, I had pondered keeping my word, but then just the other day something occurred to me. At almost every point whenever I had a success in 2014–my second Golden Heart nomination, my books hitting the Amazon bestsellers lists, my two Emma nominations–I always felt compelled to apologize in some way for it. It has been a real struggle for me to just take in the high points without apology, explanation or even a slight feeling of embarrassment.

These emotional reactions have to stop.

So I have selected a new word for 2015 that I hope will help me with my issue–Shine.

Shine is a word that does have some negative meanings, even racially, but I’m going to explain what it will mean for me this year.

I was raised by a very wise woman who taught me to reach far and to seek accomplishment, but once those goals were attained, then the accomplishment should be downplayed so that other people would not feel uncomfortable.  My beautiful mother, who was one of the first black female business executives in the Pittsburgh area, steeped herself in this principle and I followed her example.  However, I’ve learned a particular codicil to this belief.

It doesn’t matter what you do or say, there will be some people who cannot deal with it.  I experienced this directly on Twitter when someone, who I thought of as supportive, engaged in subtweeting (talking about something that I said without referring to me directly). If someone has a problem with something that I’ve said, I would expect for them to engage me directly. So disappointing.   This experience convinced me that I need to do and say what comes from my heart.  No matter what, there will always be someone who has a problem. But that is their problem.  Not mine. I do not need to be, or desire to be, “in your face” about what I do, but I don’t believe my mother wanted me to feel embarrassed or apologize for it.  I know this is true because “This Little Light of Mine” was one of her favorite spirituals.

When my mother’s illness changed her appearance, my cousins wanted to honor my mother with a quilt where everyone created a block representing how they felt about her.  They were sneaky and made her make her own block that represented advice that she would give to the children of the family.  She chose to paint and embroider (in her creative way) the block that I’ve shown here.  It’s in the center of the quilt.  Also, as I reflect upon the true meaning behind her philosophy, there are other songs that she liked that were always referring to bringing light–“Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “We Are Singing for the Lord is Our Light.” Ahh.  Now I get it.

So. Shine. No more explanations or apologies about the choices I’ve made in terms of the publisher I’ve chosen to put forward the three Bledsoe Sister books later in 2015, no more embarrassment about taking Milford College into the 20th century this year, just–do it to bring light.

Embracing Shine will not be easy.  It was hard for me to even write this post.  It’s an every day battle to reinforce the belief that I have a voice worth listening to, or a point of view that matters. But I believe that Shine will help me with this in 2015. And it starts in 2015 with the first blog post that discusses the next Milford book–The Representative’s Revolt.  Onward and upward!

 

 

 

Meet Ruby! Cover Reveal of A Virtuous Ruby

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Rubies are the birthstone for July and that is when A Virtuous Ruby, my 2014 Golden Heart nominated story,  will appear as an e-book publication. Those of you who are long time followers of this blog know that the “Migrations of the Heart” series represents a different kind of historical romance.

VirtuousRuby-A300

 

The blurb:

1915 – Winslow, Georgia thought shame would keep her from speaking out against lynching–they were wrong.   Town troublemaker Ruby Bledsoe resolves never be quiet, loving her baby, no matter how he had come into the world.  However, when she seeks help for her sick son, she doesn’t anticipate meeting a handsome stranger who offers Ruby a way to help her son and a brand new life.

Dr. Adam Morson had always felt shame as a mixed-race child–shame enough to masquerade as something that he wasn’t.  However, something powerful draws him to protect the beautiful and fiery activist who shows him how to be true to himself.  Some unknown force unknown compels him to offer Ruby a job in his practice up north and Ruby has to decide if she should stay and fight for the soul of her hometown, or if she should seek her own happiness with the handsome stranger.

Coming from Samhain- July 8, 2015

A guest post– Parker J. Cole

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While I’m counting down the days to the release of The Mayor’s Mission, I would like to introduce a friend of mine, Parker J. Cole.  She has a new release coming out as well!

 

The Other Man Leah Westwood loves her husband Jacob with all her heart, even as the smoldering glances of her ex-flame Vincent Miller continue to affect her. What she once shared with Vincent threatens to rip apart the bonds she is trying to build with her husband.

Jacob’s heart belongs to Leah, but his body refuses to accept that. Rachel is the one who has been his mainstay at the most difficult times in his life. How could he leave her alone?

Vincent wants Leah back and all he has to do is watch and wait as Jacob and Leah’s relationship unravels.

Ultimately, Leah must make a choice . . . between fantasy and fidelity.

Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/parker.j.cole4125

Twitter: @parkerjcole

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+ParkerJColeAuthor

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/parkerjcole7

Parker JParker J. Cole is a writer and radio show host who spends most of her time reading, knitting, writing, cooking, and concocting new ideas for stories. Her first novel, Dark Cherub, won Best of Spring Reading 2013 from eMediaCampaigns. She lives in Michigan with her husband and beloved dog Sarah.

Visit her site at http://www.ParkerJCole.com

Cemetery segregation: the story of South-View

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His slab is pretty elaborate for a black man of his time.

His slab is pretty elaborate for a black man of his time.

I went on a field trip with a colleague recently to South-View Cemetery in Atlanta. South-View is a place that buries people regardless of race, even as Atlanta’s more famous cemetery, Oakland, started to get selective back in the 1880’s about who was allowed to be buried there.  So, South-View was started by five former slaves in the basement of the same church where Spelman College was also founded.  It boasts being the oldest incorporated business in the country owned by African Americans.

South-View provided a place where people could be buried with dignity, irrespective of race. People could come and ensure of a safe, long-lasting burial for their loved ones. Before it’s founding, beloved family members of African Americans would have to negotiate to bury their loved ones in marshy swampland portions of other cemeteries, worrying about the fate of the remains of their loved ones. They would have to endure the indignity of entering the cemetery through a back gate instead of a front one.  South-View sought to eliminate all of that instead provided uplift to a race at a time of grief

It was no surprise to me that people were buried in death according to who they were in life.  It’s the same story across The Milford College series. The separations will be reemphasized with a burial in the upcoming, The Mayor’s Mission.  Mrs. Milford and family were buried on one side, and her former enslaved population on the other side.  Given the closeness of the burial grounds to the house, it seems certain that the population of Milford will always take care of the land—future stories in the series will tell the tale as to what becomes of the land.

Still, at South-View there is a different separation of graves.  The concept of perpetuity care developed later on, so one side consists of the graves cared for in perpetuity and those that are not.  This is the case in most graveyards and fortunately, South-View has a foundation in place to continue fund raising for the non-perpetuity side.  Still the non-perpetuity side is where most of the oldest and most interesting funerary art resides.  The separation was a reminder to me that people can be forgotten.  For example, I was surprised to encounter someone I’ve been researching on that no-perpetuity side– the grave site of one of my characters in The Mayor’s Mission, Henry McNeal Turner.

I went by myself to see the sight of where one of the greatest African American citizens was laid to rest on a hill.  The great man rests where the entrance used to be when there were horses.  His elaborate slab is placed right next to that gate, and almost seems to be as a welcoming committee for folks who, when the bell rung, were welcomed to their eternal rest in South-View.  Now? There is a different entrance and the corner where Turner rests sees far less activity and is quiet. I hope he doesn’t mind that I’ve put him in my stories, so that he’s not completely forgotten.  Maybe my stories may even bestir some to contribute to the non-perpetuity care fund. I would hope his grave site, placed under a tree, will still be made suitable for others to come and bear witness to how he risked himself to further the education and lives of African Americans in Reconstruction.

The first Election Day

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This old timey ballot box looks like Isaac made it. It’s on sale on eBay for $385.00.

I reflected upon the range of “first” Election Days in the wake of the variety of reactions this week.  We know that the expanse of suffrage occurred slowly over time.   Still, in my depiction of the “first” Election Day for the formerly enslaved men of Milford, I chose to see that day as a day of celebration. It was a day where they were being counted in this country, not as 3/5 of a person but as a voice.

Virgil Smithson is appointed as mayor over Milford, by Mrs. Milford, when in the wake of the Civil War, she decides to draw Milford as a town. Virgil is responsible for taking the papers to the then state capitol of Georgia, Milledgeville, to certify the founding of Milford, Georgia and to attest that he is the mayor of said town. It is one of the first times when he is able to use his signature, the one that his wife Amanda taught him to write.
That scene in The Preacher’s Promise is meant to represent the hope that Virgil feels in the new day coming as a result of the end of slavery. So just as that scene in Milledgeville is central in The Preacher’s Promise, so too is the Election Day scene in the upcoming The Mayor’s Mission. I hope that these depictions of the expansion of rights helps everyone to remember that there was a time when very few of us were able to vote. My scene set on the “first” Election Day was able to happen because of the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Many Americans were still left out on that “first” Election Day in April 1868. In Georgia’s case, the legitimacy of the election was not certain until the passage of the fifteenth amendment in 1870–an issue that haunts Virgil’s election to the state legislature.  Still,  the commemoration represented a new beginning. No matter what our political beliefs, we would do well to remember who came before and to keep it a festive day.