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Sun, 06.20.1858

Charles W. Chesnutt, Writer of Fiction born

Charles W.Chesnutt

This date is the birthday of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, born in 1858. He was a Black novelist and short-story writer.

Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, OH, but had little formal education. He taught himself and he was tutored.  After the American Civil War, Chesnutt became a teacher. In the 1870s, he began to write for magazines and newspapers, eventually concentrating on fiction. His story "The Goophered Grapevine,” became the first work written by a Black author to be published in “The Atlantic Monthly.”

In 1899, two collections of his short stories were published: “The Conjure Woman” and “The Wife of His Youth.” By the early 1900s, race relations in the United States had deteriorated and it was difficult for Chesnutt to earn a living from his writing. He returned to Cleveland to run a legal stenography business, writing fiction only occasionally.

He is regarded as one of the most accomplished late 19th-century American writers of fiction. His works describe how slavery created complex social relations in the United States. Chesnutt's views on race relations put him between Du Bois' talented tenth and Washington's separate but equal positions.  In a speech delivered in 1905 to the Boston Historical and Literary Association and later published as an essay, titled "Race Prejudice; Its Causes and Its Cure," Chesnutt imagined a "stone by stone" dismantling of race antagonism as the black middle class grew and prospered. Filled with numbers and statistics, Chesnutt's speech/essay chronicled black achievements and black poverty. He called for full civil and political rights for all African Americans.

He was an advocate for the rights of Blacks, and he remained so while running his business. For his efforts, he received the Spingarn Medal in 1928 from the NAACP.  In the late 20th century, scholarly interest in his writings was rekindled.  Charles Waddell Chesnutt died on November 15, 1932, at the age of 74.

The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York
ISBN 0-8160-3289-0

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