Frontispiece portrait of Iola Leroy author, Frances E.W. Harper
Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted by Frances E.W. Harper (Philadelphia, Garrigue Brothers, 1892), was long considered the first novel to be published by an African American woman. It is the only novel by Harper, who is otherwise known for her poetry and essays.
The novel is about the personal independence of women of color, and of the race in general. Iola commits herself to the education and furtherance of her race, and particularly of the freed slave, but is especially adamant about maintaining her status as an employed woman, saying at one point: "I think that every woman should have some skill or art which would insure her at least a comfortable support. I believe there would be less unhappy marriages if labor were more honored among women."
Color decorated cloth publisher's binding, typical of its time, of the 1st edition of Contending Forces
Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (Boston, The Colored Co-operative Publishing Co., 1900) is Pauline Hopkins’ first and best-known novel. It is a work of activist literature. Its goal was to lead both its black and white audiences to understand the wide-spread 19th century lynching and raping of black Americans as a form of political terror, and to persuade them that the most effective way of resisting this terrorism was through African American agitation.
Hopkins entered the popular genre of the sentimental novel to push for social awareness and change, awakening readers of all kinds to their own ability to resist the current status quo and redefine the spaces African Americans could inhabit.
Written in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the six titles in the Let's Pretend series follow a young girl and her family living in Austin, Texas at the turn of the 20th century. The books' intended readers were African American children in Austin's newly integrated public school; desegregation in Austin was a lengthy and embattled process not fully achieved until 1979.
In each book, author Ada DeBlanc Simonds presents a lightly fictionalized treatment of historical events, drawn from local archival research and her own childhood memories (explained in the preface to each novel.). Each of the six we purchased also contains Simonds' signature.
Each book contains drawings by illustrator Sarochin Shannon, and each story is followed by an appendix, "Did You Know This? Some Words and Customs of Mae Dee's Times," glossing both historical events and figures (Emancipation Day / Juneteenth, James Weldon Johnson, Jack London) and vocabulary words (privy, tarpaulin, refectory, matriarch.)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family Go to Town: The first in a series of stories (1977)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family on a Weekend in May: The second in a series of stories (1977)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family Join the Juneteenth Celebration: The third in a series of stories (1978)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family in the Merry Merry Season: The fourth in a series of stories (1978)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family and the First Wedding of the Year: The fifth in a series of stories (1979)
Let's Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family Ten Years Later: The sixth in a series of stories (1980)