Early Black American Prose

What black American was the first to publish a short story?

In 1859 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911) wrote “The Two Offers,” the first short story published by a black woman in the United States. It appeared in the Anglo-African magazine in 1859. Harper was born in Baltimore, Maryland, of free parents. By age fourteen she had a fairly good education for the time and was already established as a writer and scholar. She became a noted speaker in the abolition movement, including that as permanent lecturer for the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. After the Civil War her lectures addressed such issues as the suffrage and temperance movements as well as women’s rights. Often she interspersed poetry throughout her lectures. Although her poems addressed a variety of issues, Harper is often referred to as an abolitionist poet; she was also the most popular black poet of her time. Her first volume appeared in 1845, when she was twenty-one years old. She was an extremely successful poet—Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects launched her career and is reported to have sold fifty thousand copies by 1878, and her novel Iola Leroy (1892) had three editions printed.


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