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Wed, 11.11.1863

Emma Durham Kelley-Hawkins, Writer born

Emma Hawkins

*Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins was born on this date in 1863. She was a Black writer and author.

Emma Dunham Kelley was born in Dennis, Massachusetts, and raised by her widowed mother in Rhode Island. Kelley married Benjamin Hawkins, an inventor, in 1893. The couple had two children, Gala and Magda. Royalties from Emma's two novels, Magda (1891) and Four Girls at Cottage City (1895) helped support the family.  Her novel Four Girls At Cottage City (1895).

An earlier novel, Magda (1891), was published under her maiden name of Emma Dunham Kelley and the pseudonym "Forget-me-not." This author was long considered a pioneer of Black women's literature. Her novel was rediscovered by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and served as an inspiration for him to compile the 40-volume Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers in 1988.

While many Black writers dealt explicitly with issues of race, Kelley-Hawkins's work did not treat themes of racial uplift. This treatment is like fiction by other black authors of the period, including selected work by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Frank J. Webb, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Amelia E. Johnson, for example. Kelley-Hawkins did, however, deal with African American reform issues.

Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins died on October 22, 1938. Recent genealogical research indicates that Kelley-Hawkins was, in fact, white or identified herself as white. (National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 94, No. 1, March 2006. 

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