Paper: A Brief Biography of Charles Chesnutt and His First Recognized Work of Fiction, "The Goophered Grapevine"

This story of two blacks who pass for white in the postwar South revealed Chesnutt's sense of the psychological and social dilemmas facing persons of mixed blood in the region. His second novel, The Marrow of Tradition (1901), is based on the Wilmington, N.C., race riot of 1898. Hoping to write the Uncle Tom's Cabin of his generation, Chesnutt made a plea for racial justice that impressed William Dean Howells as a work of "great power," though with "more justice than mercy in it." The failure of the book to sell widely forced Chesnutt to give up his dream of supporting his family as a professional author. In 1905 he published his final novel, The Colonel's Dream, a tragic story of an idealist's attempt to revive a depressed North Carolina town through a socioeconomic program much akin to the New South creed of Henry W. Grady and Booker T. Washington. The novel received little critical notice. During the latter years of his life Chesnutt continued to write and publish occasional short stories, but he was largely eclipsed in the 1920s by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1928 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for his pioneering literary work on behalf of the Afro-American struggle. Today Chesnutt is recognized as a major innovator in the tradition of Afro American fiction, an important contributor to the deromanticizing trend in post-Civil War southern literature and a singular voice among turn-of-the- century realists who treated the color line in American life. William L. Andrews University of Wisconsin William L. Andrews, The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt (1980); Helen M. Chesnutt, Charles Waddell Chesnutt: Pioneer of the Color Line (1952); Frances Richardson Keller, An American Crusade: The Life of Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1978). Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris....