Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted
Philadelphia: Garrigues Brothers, 1892.
Philadelphia: Garrigues Brothers, 1892. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding with gilt to spine and front board. Yellow floral endpapers. A very nearly Fine copy of an incredibly scarce book, with just the faintest mark to the front board and gentle bumps to corners. Front inner hinge repaired. Internally exceptionally fresh and unmarked. Considered the first novel published by an African American woman until the 1980s, Iola Leroy remains a literary landmark for BIPOC authorship. Copies are rare on the market, with this title appearing only twice at auction.
Even in its own time, Iola Leroy was recognized as a literary contribution that contributed to reshaping the American novel. Of over 7,000 volumes selected for the Women's Building exhibition at the 1893 World's Fair, six were authored by Black women -- and of these, two including Iola Leroy were written by Frances E. W. Harper. Noted for speaking "to the intersections of race and gender that prescribed the black woman's experience in nineteenth century America," it also addressed "the social and political concerns that motivated her" (Gautier). This was no surprise, coming from an author who had led "a distinguished career as a poet, novelist, essayist, lecturer, activist, and reformer...the most popular African American writer of the nineteenth century as well as one of the most important women in United States history" (Gaultier). For Harper, individual and community identities were tied, and the act of writing was political as well creative. "Harper could have chosen to avoid many of the distressing realities that controlled the lives of members of her race. She chose not to do so. Harper decided that her personal survival and well-being were inextricably linked to the survival and well-being of her larger society" (Foster). Thus, she drew on her own knowledge and experience, the observations of the world around her, and the stories she was told. She shared these in a way that were honest, that urged recognition of systemic violence but that also encouraged recognition of Black people's -- and particularly Black women's -- ability to create change in the coming generations. "As a free black in Maryland, Harper was a Southern woman who saw the realities of slavery" and their impact on all Black people; "although she as orphaned at the age of three and thus deprived of her mother, Harper's work nevertheless stressed the importance of women's and especially mothers' influence on the moral conduct and character of children" (Gautier).
An exceptional novel, which took a form popular with audiences of all color in order to place emphasis on Blackness and Black identity in America. Near Fine (Item #4027)