Roosevelt House is pleased to present a discussion of the new Library of America anthology Black Writers of the Founding Era featuring the historian, author, and editor of the volume James G. Basker in conversation with television writer and author Susan Fales-Hill.

The richest and most expansive anthology of its kind ever assembled, Black Writers of the Founding Era offers a vital and radical new vision of the turbulent decades surrounding the birth of the nation. A major act of historical recovery, this groundbreaking anthology features more than 120 writers who, together, reveal the complexity and dynamism of African American life and culture in the period. Including more than 200 poems, letters, sermons, newspaper advertisements, slave narratives, testimonies of faith and religious conversion, criminal confessions, court transcripts, travel accounts, private journals, wills, petitions for freedom, even dreams, this collection delivers an unprecedented archive of historical sources.

Featured in the volume are writers both enslaved and free, loyalist and patriot, female and male, northern and southern; soldiers, seamen, and veterans; painters, poets, accountants, orators, scientists, community organizers, preachers, restaurateurs and cooks, hairdressers, criminals, carpenters, and many more. Along with long-famous works like Phillis Wheatley’s poems and Benjamin Banneker’s astonishing mathematical and scientific puzzles are dozens of first-person narratives offering little-known Black perspectives on the events of the times, like the Boston Massacre and the death of George Washington.

From their bold and eloquent contributions to public debates about the meaning of the revolution and the values of the new nation, to intimate thoughts preserved in private diaries and letters (some unseen to the present day), the words of the many writers gathered in this volume will indelibly alter our understanding of American history.

James G. Basker is President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Richard Gilder Professor of Literary History at Barnard College, Columbia University. He has written and edited many books including Black Historians on the Record: Essays From the Gilder Lehrman Institute and, also for Library of America, American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation.

Susan Fales-Hill is a television writer, producer, and author who began her career as a writing apprentice on the Cosby Show. Other TV credits include A Different World; Can’t Hurry Love; Suddenly Susan; Showtime’s Linc’s, which she co-created; and, as executive producer, HBO’s And Just Like That. Her work has appeared in Town & Country, Architectural Digest, the New York Times, Vogue, and Glamour. Her books include the memoir Always Wear Joy, the novels One Flight Up and Imperfect Bliss, and, as Misty Copeland’s co-writer, The Wind at My Back.

James G. Basker — Black Writers of the Founding Era | Posted on April 3rd, 2024 | Book Discussions, Public Programs