Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

Our-NigA fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the historical (slave) narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a Black woman abandoned by her whyte mother after the death of the child’s Black father, who grows up as an indentured servant to a whyte family in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.

This definitive edition of Our Nig includes a new Introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Richard J. Ellis and a set of appendices: “Harriet Wilson’s Career as a Spiritualist”; “Hattie E. Wilson in the Banner of Light and Spiritual Scientist” a collection of her extant contributions to these newspapers; “Documents from Harriet Wilson’s Life in Boston,” and a compilation of primary source material relating to Wilson’s identity. There is also a new chronology of the life of Harriet Wilson by Richard J. Ellis, as well as an up-to-date Select Bibliography of current scholarship regarding Harriet Wilson. This edition gives the fullest account to date of the life of Harriet Wilson, filling out many critical points regarding her life after writing Our Nig, in particular when she became a “medium” who communicated with the dead and as an educator in the “Spiritualist” movement after the Civil War.

Our Nig was published in 1859 and rediscovered in 1982.

Praise for Our Nig

“I sat up most of the night reading and pondering the enormous significance of Harriet Wilson’s novel, Our Nig. It is as if we’d just discovered Phillis Wheatley—or Langston Hughes…. She represents a similar vastness of heretofore unexamined experience, a whole new layer of time and existence in American life and literature.” —Alice Walker

“The story of Henry Louis Gates’ discovery of this extraordinary book and his persistent search for the true identity of the author is a notable and lasting contribution to the literary history of black Americans.” —Ann Petry

Our Nig is a fascinating and revealing historical document that transmogrifies the rhetorical devices of the sentimental ‘woman’s novel’ into an early Afro-American commentary on race, class, and poverty in mid-nineteenth-century America. Professor Gates’ introduction and critical apparatus describe the detective work that established Harriet E. Wilson’s authorship; Professor Gates also places the book within the widest literary and historical context.” —David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History, Yale University

“Harriet Wilson’s use of the conventions of sentimental fiction demonstrates conclusively that fictional forms were at least as important in determining how we write what we write as were the slave narratives. Professor Gates’ discovery confirms my suspicion that there was more ‘free-floating’ literacy available to Negroes than has been assumed.” —Ralph Ellison

 

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