In Black Literature/ Pauline E. Hopkins

This is African American History Month and I’m doing a month long look back in Black Literature. Each Monday I plan to introduce a little known African American author.

                  Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930)
Pauline E. Hopkins was a talented and politically motivated writer of fiction, essays, and biographies. Her early publishing efforts, and her direct approach to race and black empowerment, were seminal elements in African American literature.

Hopkins was a trail-blazing author and editor whose work, although popular, was never fully appreciated in its time. The authors and poets of the Harlem Renaissance who prospered in the 1920s, such as Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen, benefited from the stylistic doors she opened and the subjects her writings explored.

Her own work tackled the politicized and tension-charged issue of interracial coupling and the resultant complexities with equal fervor. She was often compared to the Black Novelist Charles Chestnutt, who I’ll be talking about later this month. They both were part of an aggressive new vanguard of writers pushing material that did not become acceptable, literary fashion for another 20 years.

In the 1980s, a number of her works were popularized by literary scholars, and her historical value was solidified. In 1988, the Schomberg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers included Hopkins’ novels and short stories in its anthology in acknowledgement of their importance

Her Book

In Contending Forces (1900), her best-known novel and her only work of fiction published in book form during her lifetime, Pauline Hopkins uses the conventions of the sentimental romance as she seeks to encourage social change. In its pages we encounter noble heroes and virtuous heroines, exotic settings, unsavory villains, melodramatic scenes, and a star-crossed love affair. Both an extraordinarily detailed examination of black life in nineteenth-century America and a richly textured and engrossing piece of fiction, Contending Forces remains one of the most important works produced by an African-American before World War I.

 Read her words

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