Our Nig; or, sketches from the life of a free black : in a two-story White House, North

by Harriet E. Wilson

Other authorsHenry Louis Jr Gates (Introduction)
Paperback, 1983




New York : Vintage Books, 1983.


For the 150th anniversary of its first publication, a new edition of the pioneering African-American classic, reflecting groundbreaking discoveries about its author's life First published in 1859, Our Nig is an autobiographical narrative that stands as one of the most important accounts of the life of a black woman in the antebellum North. In the story of Frado, a spirited black girl who is abused and overworked as the indentured servant to a New England family, Harriet E. Wilson tells a heartbreaking story about the resilience of the human spirit. This edition incorporates new research showing that Wilson was not only a pioneering African-American literary figure but also an entrepreneur in the black women's hair care market fifty years before Madame C. J. Walker's hair care empire made her the country's first woman millionaire. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stevil2001
Henry Louis Gates's introduction to my edition (2002, from Vintage) likes to trumpet the fact that Our Nig is the first known novel written by an African-American and published in America (the continents, not the country). I suspect, however, that if it was the seventh, we'd be much less interested in it. The characters, even Frado, the protagonist, are all thin caricatures (though most of them are good for a joke or two, which helps alleviate that). It does deal with some interesting notions (especially the blindness of white abolitionists in the North), but what Wilson chooses to focus on is often strangely arbitrary: we get the marital shenanigans of Frado's white relatives in excruciating detail, whereas Frado's own marriage happens in two very short pages.

Gates's critical apparatus is really focused on the autobiographical components to the novel, and though they are considerable, the fact that Wilson published a novel and not an autobiography ought to count for something, I think. The introduction spends a lot of time desperately trying to convince the reader that the Harriet E. Wilson of Boston who wrote this novel is the same of the Harriet E. Wilson of Boston who was a seamstress at the same time, which seems fairly self-evident to me, while the endnotes try to match every character to a historical figure and complain vociferously when they can't. Also annoying is the fact that endnotes are not actually indicated in the text, so the reader just has to guess there might be some referring to a specific page and check. I suspect anyone interested in Our Nig (as unlikely as that seems) would be better off with the new Penguin Classics edition.
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LibraryThing member grundlecat
Wilson's auto-biographical novel is perhaps not great literature, but does keep one's interest and reveals volumes about the society in which she lived. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in our nation's history.


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