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Fiction

"If you say to African-American writers, or any writers coming from an outside position, that their only cultural authority comes from the literal truth, you are barring them from a whole imaginative universe."*

African Americans have used fiction to explore aspects of African American life, examine history, resist oppression, and tell their own stories in their own voices. The literary styles vary from fictionalized memoirs to magical realism, but always are rooted in a strong sense of place, often with their North Carolina roots permeating the authors' natural and constructed worlds.

*Addley, Esther, and Oliver Burkeman. "A Slave Woman Writes." The Guardian, 4 April 2002.

Hannah Crafts and Henry Louis Gates, editor. The Bondwoman’s Narrative. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

Hannah Crafts and Henry Louis Gates, editor. The Bondwoman’s Narrative. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

Enslaved on a plantation in Murfreesboro, Hannah Bond (1830? - ?) is believed to have been a self-educated woman who worked as a maid to the mistress of the house. The Bondswoman’s Narrative is a fictionalized account of her early life and later escape to freedom.

Under the pen name Hannah Crafts, Bond wrote The Bondswoman’s Narrative. The novel in manuscript form was written between 1853 and 1861 and first published in 2003. If true, The Bondswoman’s Narrative is the first novel written by a Black woman. Even if completed after 1859, the work appears to be the only novel written by a fugitive slave woman.


John Sprunt Hill Endowment
North Carolina Collection

Charles W. Chesnutt. The Marrow of Tradition. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901.

Charles W. Chesnutt. The Marrow of Tradition. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) was born to free Black parents in Ohio but was raised in Fayetteville. He was educated at Fayetteville's Howard School, an institution for African Americans established by the Freedmen's Bureau. In later years, Chesnutt served as a teacher and administrator in the State Colored Normal School. He was one of the first Black writers to become a mainstream success by writing fiction that realistically portrayed the complexities of African American life. Chesnutt was unusually honest about the problems inherent in that experience, and his stories remain valuable for their descriptions of nineteenth-century Black culture and attitudes.

The Marrow of Tradition examines the violence of the post-reconstruction period. It is a fictionalized account of the brutality of the white North Carolina Democrats who instigated the November 1898 Wilmington Massacre.

The Marrow of Tradition at Documenting the American South.


North Carolina Collection

Jack Thorne. Hanover or The Persecution of the Lowly. A Story of the Wilmington Massacre.<br />

Jack Thorne. Hanover or The Persecution of the Lowly. A Story of the Wilmington Massacre.

David Bryant Fulton (1863?-1941) was born in Fayetteville and grew up in Wilmington, completing his education at the segregated Williston School and Gregory Normal Institute. Fulton began his writing career as a correspondent for the Wilmington Record, an African American newspaper.

Fulton’s second book was a loosely constructed novel, Hanover, or The Persecution of the Lowly, a blending of fact and fiction to set the record straight about the causes and outcome of the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. It was published under his pen name “Jack Thorne.”

Hanover at Documenting the American South.


Bruce Cotten Collection
North Carolina Collection

Randall Kenan. Let the Dead Bury Their Dead and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Randall Kenan. Let the Dead Bury Their Dead and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Randall Kenan was raised by his father’s relatives in Chinquapin in Duplin County. Kenan received his BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has held faculty appointments at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.

Let the Dead Bury Their Dead features the residents of the fictional town of Tims Creek, North Carolina. This collection of short stories was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and named one of the New York Times's Notable Books of 1992.


John Sprunt Hill Endowment
North Carolina Collection

James Ephraim McGirt. The Triumphs of Ephraim. Philadelphia: The McGirt Publishing Co., 1907.

James Ephraim McGirt. The Triumphs of Ephraim. Philadelphia: The McGirt Publishing Co., 1907.

James Ephraim McGirt (1874-1930) was born in Robeson County. He was raised on a farm near Lumberton and attended Allen Private School. After the family moved to Greensboro, McGirt graduated from the public high school and earned a bachelor’s degree from Bennett College.

McGirt published McGirt's Magazine, which reprinted the work of African American writers, gave voice to the political aims of the community, and encouraged African Americans to gain autonomy through voting and education.

The stories in The Triumph of Ephraim focus mainly on romantic love and feature youthful Black heroes and heroines. A few of his stories are set in North Carolina.


North Carolina Collection

Stephanie Powell Watts. No One Is Coming to Save Us : A Novel. New York: Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.

Stephanie Powell Watts. No One Is Coming to Save Us : A Novel. New York: Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.

Stephanie Powell Watts was born in Lenoir. She received her BA from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and her PhD from the University of Missouri in Columbia. Watts is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at Lehigh University.

No One is Coming to Save Us, her debut novel, is about an extended African American family and their conflicting visions of the American Dream. Powell Watts describes it as “The Great Gatsby set in rural North Carolina, nine decades later, with desperate black people.”


Nancy Cobb Lilly Library Fund
North Carolina Collection