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Who was Hannah Crafts? From NCLR to New Book

Friday from the Archives: “Searching for Hannah Crafts in Eastern North Carolina” by Gregg Hecimovich from NCLR Issue 16 (2007)

We are always joyful when a writer expands on their NCLR work. The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts:
The True Story of The Bondwoman’s Narrative
, coming in September, is the book that grew out of Hecimovich’s 2007 essay.

Like any good mystery story, the central question is a “whodunit?”, in this case: who wrote this book? Could it possibly be an enslaved woman as the book portrays? So many details in a book that purports to be a fictionalized autobiography lead many researchers to have serious questions about the veracity of the tale. As Hecimovich dives into these questions, he decides “this is …the tale of a slave who came into the orbit of these communities and who recorded her experiences in a novel now considered to be the first novel by an African American woman and an escaped slave.”

The essay covers the beginning of Hecimovich’s answering of those questions: how could an enslaved person be literate, where in North Carolina could the events have transpired, who could the woman have been in which family? He ends the essay with “I believe that one of these two Hannahs is the author of The Bondwoman’s Narrative. But that story will have to wait for another day.”

“Crafts’s rediscovered tale acts as a necessary correction to our variously imagined “histories” of slavery in North Carolina and, indeed, to our understanding of the institution of slavery in general,” Hecimovich points out about the importance and impact of The Bondwoman’s Narrative. “Crafts’s novel joins Harriet Ann Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) – another autobiographical novel written by an escaped slave from eastern North Carolina – as an extremely important counterbalance, providing a voice for the slaves who lie in “widely scattered graves that have been green for generations,” graves that have remained, for too long, unmarked.”

The 2007 issue featuring “100 Years of Writers and Writing at ECU” is not yet available on ProQuest. You can order the issue for your collection.