DATE April 9, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Henry Louis Gates discusses the manuscript he edited
called "The Bondwoman's Narrative"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Henry Louis Gates, has edited a manuscript that was written in the
1850s by Hannah Crafts, a woman who described herself as a runaway slave and
described the manuscript as a novel based on her life. If the author is who
she says she was, then this book would be the first known novel written by a
black woman and the first by a fugitive slave. Crafts' novel, "The
Bondwoman's Narrative," is filled with descriptions of slave life in the
mid-1800s. It's just been published with an introduction by Gates that
describes the process he has been using to authenticate the manuscript. He
bought the handwritten manuscript at an auction of African-American writings.
It was from the private collection of the late Dorothy Porter Wesley, who had
been a historian and librarian at Howard University.
Henry Louis Gates is the chair of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department.
I asked him about the significance of the manuscript.
Professor HENRY LOUIS GATES (Chair, Afro-American Studies Department, Harvard
University): The most exciting thing about this manuscript for me is the fact
that it exists, the fact that a woman ran away from slavery in North
Carolina, made it all the way to New Jersey, sat down and wrote a fictional
account, a novelistic account of her experience in bondage, didn't publish it
for reasons that we don't understand, and yet, 150 years later this manuscript
emerges, it has survived and now has made itself into print. It's a miracle.
I can't believe it. I mean, sitting here looking at the book I can't believe
it. And I hope that it leads scholars and students to look more diligently
for other unpublished manuscripts and other lost works by persons of color,
and particularly by women of color.
GROSS: Let's start with the text itself. Can you tell us a little bit the
story that the novel tells?
Prof. GATES: Well, it's a story of a woman who is a mulatto and she is
working in a very grand estate in Virginia. And the man to whom she is
enslaved is marrying a new bride, and the new bride comes in and everyone's
all excited, they're about to have a wedding. But there's a shadow over the
new bride, and it turns out that the shadow is the shadow of blackness. The
new mistress, as it turns out, is passing for white. So it's a double passing
tale. The mistress is passing for white, and she, of course, is unveiled by
the evil Mr. Trap(ph), a Dickensian character if I've ever heard of one. And
she and her favorite slave, our Hannah Crafts, try to run away through Milton,
Virginia, which became a very, very important fact in authenticating her tale.
But she never can escape, and she expires in the manner of a true sentimental
heroine, you know, anguished. And so she just dies.
And then the rest of the novel is about our Hannah Crafts and her experiences
in other plantation households in Virginia, then being purchased by the evil
Wheeler family and taken to Washington, DC, and then moving with them to North
Carolina, where Mrs. Wheeler, in punishment, attempts to force her,
effectively, to be raped by a black field hand, and that's when she runs away.
And she adopts the disguise of a white male. She dresses as a boy, she's very
fair, and she uses that to escape.
GROSS: You have read a lot of literature about slavery and you've read a lot
of slave narratives. Are their descriptions in this book that are unlike
things you've read before, that give you insights into what slave life was
Prof. GATES: You know, one of the most striking things about this novel,
rather than stick merely to the details of slavery, this author will take time
to talk about the flora, the fauna, the architecture, but also she has
tremendous insight into the subtle effects of slavery on a slave. For
example, Frederick Douglass says the most important thing about being a slave
was not knowing your birth date. Now that's counterintuitive. Who would
figure that out? You would think--I always ask my classes every year, `What's
the worst thing about slavery?' and they say being beaten or being raped.
Douglass says the worst thing is that he never knew his birth date. So it's
surprising what was important in the life of a slave.
GROSS: I'd like you to choose a passage from "The Bondwoman's Narrative" that
you think, you know, illustrates something interesting about her perception of
slavery, and tell us why you've chosen this passage.
Prof. GATES: OK. I'd like to read from chapter 16, which is called "In North
Carolina."(ph) And remember, it's from North Carolina that she will finally
make her escape. And like the other chapters, it starts with an epigraph.
This one is from the Bible, the book of Esther. `We are sold for naught, I
and my people.' And here she's contrasting life within the big house to life
within the quarters out in the field. And what's interesting about that is
that in the slave narratives we have very few vivid descriptions of the
squalid nature of life in the huts, as she calls them, life in the slave
quarters. Often slave narrators were--if they didn't edit themselves, they
were rather euphemistic, and she's much more direct than any other slave
narrator that I know. But notice that she combines the physical description,
as it were, with the metaphysical description of the cost or effects of
slavery upon the slaves.
`Many of these huts were even older than the nation and had been occupied by
successive generations of slaves. The greatest curse of slavery is its
hereditary character. The father leaves to his son an inheritance of toil and
misery and his place on the fetid straw in the miserable corner, with no hope
or possibility of anything better. And the son, in his turn, transmits the
same to his offspring and thus forever. If the huts were bad, the
inhabitants, it seemed, were still worse. Degradation, neglect and ill
treatment had wrought on them its legitimate effects. All day they toiled
beneath the burning sun, scarcely conscious that any link exists between
themselves and other portions of the human race. Their mental condition is
briefly summed up in the phrase that they know nothing. They know indeed that
it is hard to toil unceasingly for a scanty pittance of food and coarse
garments. Nature instructed them thus far.'
GROSS: Now the main character in the story actually is a house slave and not
a field slave, yes?
Prof. GATES: Yes, that's right. She's a very privileged, very opinionated,
very literate house slave who goes to great lengths to show us how she gained
her education--that is, how she was able to write the narrative that you're
holding in your hands.
GROSS: Now at one point in the story she's being forced to have a sexual
relationship with a field slave who she doesn't like.
Prof. GATES: This is...
GROSS: And it's her owner who's forcing her to do this.
Prof. GATES: The evil Mrs. Wheeler. Mrs. John Hill Wheeler, in punishment,
attempts to force her to sleep with a field hand, a person she describes in
very vivid language as being uneducated and bad-smelling and foul. And, you
know, if it weren't so tragic, it would be comic, the vividness of her
description. And this is what finally forces Hannah to run away.
Prof. GATES: And she equates this forced marriage with rape.
GROSS: Let's talk about the authentication process for this book. One of the
first things you wanted to verify was that the author was, in fact, an
African-American woman. Is that difficult to authenticate? How do you go
about trying to authenticate that?
Prof. GATES: Well, the first thing that you do, of course, is to look through
the censuses for someone called Hannah Craft. And she has an S on her name,
so it's Hannah Crafts. Now I was recovering from a series of hip replacement
surgeries. I had a hip replacement when I was 39 and it was worn out, and so
I had to have what was supposed to be a routine replacement of a replacement.
But three months after the operation I was rushed to the hospital at dawn, and
it had become infected, and so I didn't have a hip. For three months I had no
hip while they cured the infection. Then they put the hip back in. So
basically I lost a year of my life, and I was stuck at home. I didn't have a
whole lot to do. And I read about this manuscript in the Swan Gallery's
auction catalog. They have an annual Black History Month auction, and their
item number 30 was this manuscript. And so I bought it through a friend. I
sent a person I know and we bid on it and we got it.
So the first thing I did--when I read it I was convinced that the author was
black, so I had to try to find her, but I couldn't leave the house,
effectively. I was on crutches. And so I contacted several librarians over
the course of the next six months to help me with the research. I had so many
false starts and dead ends to leads. I found thousands of people named Hannah
Crafts in the various censuses, but none was an African-American and none
lived in New Jersey, with the exception of one Hannah Crafts who appears in
the 1860 census in Somerset County, New Jersey. She just appears out of the
blue, but she's listed as white, which led me to conclude, as you know from
the introduction, that our Hannah Crafts could possibly--we know she was a
mulatto. She could have shown up in New Jersey and passed for white, which
would explain why she had never published this manuscript.
But on the other hand, we established a tremendous amount of other facts from
the book. For example, she mentions that she and her mulatto mistress, the
woman who was exposed by the evil Dr. Trap, had tried to escape from Lyndon
Dale, the plantation in Virginia, and they go to a place called Milton,
Virginia, which is on the James River. And she mentions the names of maybe
six slaveholders, well, like the Henry family, the Cosgrove family, a man
named Frederick Hawkins. I had made a list of all the proper names in the
book. Then I went to the United States Censuses for 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840,
1850, 1860. And do you know everyone that she mentions, except for the two
Dickensian characters, Mr. Trap and Mr. Sadler(ph)--everyone she mentions
actually existed within a 50-kilometer radius of Milton, Virginia.
Now if this were, say, an upper-class white person writing from the North,
purely fictionalizing an imaginary slave's experience, there's no way they
would have known the identity of all these slaveholders within a 50-mile
radius of Milton, Virginia. This was the first positive information that I
was able to glean from the novel. Then, of course, the most important, of
course, was identifying John Hill Wheeler, the Mr. Wheeler and Mrs. Wheeler
who are so important to the plot of the book.
GROSS: My guest is Henry Louis Gates. The manuscript we're discussing has
just been published. It's called "The Bondwoman's Narrative." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Henry Louis Gates. He's edited the manuscript that may be
the first known novel written by a black woman and the first by a fugitive
slave. Gates has just published it with his introduction. It's called "The
Bondwoman's Narrative," by Hannah Crafts.
What were you able to learn about the real Wheeler family?
Prof. GATES: Well, I became intrigued with the identity of the Wheelers once
I read Joe Nichol's report, Dr. Joe Nichol's report.
GROSS: And he's the authenticator who actually tries to figure out from the
ink and from the paper when it was written and even analyzes the penmanship to
see what he could learn about that, analyzes the grammar.
Prof. GATES: That's right. Joe Nichol played a crucial role in exposing the
Jack the Ripper diary fraud. Do you remember that?
Prof. GATES: And he's the world's expert on pen and ink evidence. And so his
report pointed out several interesting aspects of the writing of this book,
and one was that she most probably knew someone named Wheeler, because
initially in the novel she writes his name as W-H-dash-R, you know, in the
manner of 18th- and 19th-century novels. But then she goes back and fills in
the whole name, adding the rest of the word Wheeler. And he argued that this
suggested that the fact that she did this meant that she knew someone named
Wheeler. Well, this manuscript had emerged from the collection of the great
librarian Dorothy Porter Wesley, and in her notes, which I received when I
bought the manuscript, she had said that a minor official named John Hill
Wheeler occupied several government positions in the 1850s and 1860s in
Washington, DC. So I began to think about John Hill Wheeler, who he could
possibly be. So I found out that the only Wheeler living in America in 1850
and 1860, the only one who lived both in Washington, DC, and in North
Carolina, was John Hill Wheeler.
And then the world's greatest scholar of the slave narratives, my colleague,
William Andrews, down in the Department of English at the University of North
Carolina, who has published the definitive book on the slave narratives,
called me one day and said, did I realize that John Hill Wheeler had played a
pivotal role in the famous case of Passmore Williamson? And this turned out
to be the smoking pistol that I had been looking for.
GROSS: In what case?
Prof. GATES: John Hill Wheeler owned a slave named Jane Johnson(ph). John
Hill Wheeler was the minister of the United States government to Nicaragua
between 1854 and about 1856, '57. He was finally fired from that position for
contravening orders. But he was carrying his slave, who had two sons, with
him from Washington to Nicaragua via Philadelphia and New York. They had to
go up to New York, catch a boat and then sail to Nicaragua. They stop in
Philadelphia--this is--the year's 1855, it's the summer, it's July of
1855--and he says to Jane Johnson, `You sit here in the lobby of this hotel.
I'm going in and have dinner, you and your boys. Now if any of these colored
waiters'--now remember, Philadelphia's a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment.
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society's based in Philadelphia, founded by
Benjamin Franklin, of course, in 1790. And she says, `If any of these colored
waiters who are hovering around here ask you if you're a slave, you say either
"No, I'm a free colored person" or "I'm a slave and I don't want to be free."'
And so he goes and sits down to eat his meal, but he's tricking her because he
pretends to sit down and then he jumps up and creeps back into the lobby of
the hotel to see if she's talking to any of the black waiters, and she's not.
So then he goes and he's comfortable and he eats his meal. As soon as he sits
back down, she runs over to one of the other black waiters and says, `Help me.
Help me. I'm a slave. I'm a slave. I want to be free.' So they send a
message over to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society to a black man named
William Still, who's very famous because he eventually published the book
called the "Underground Railroad" in 1872. He and Passmore Williamson, who is
the Quaker who is the president of the Anti-Slavery Society, go together to
the hotel. She and Wheeler have already left for the boat. They run down to
the boat, they get onto the boat and they wrestle with Wheeler, and they steal
Jane Johnson away, they liberate Jane Johnson.
Well, when I read the case of Passmore Williamson after Bill Andrews told me
about this, I thought about an odd passage in the novel. In the novel, when
Mrs. Wheeler comes to Virginia and buys Hannah Crafts, she says to Hannah,
`Will you do my hair?' And Hannah's doing her hair and she's hurting her hair
and her scalp is very sensitive. And she complains about her hairdressing
abilities, and then she says, `I haven't been able to have my hair done
decently since Jane ran away,' and that Jane was Jane Johnson. That was the
smoking pistol. And I knew that this was real. I mean, I knew that Hannah
Crafts had been a servant of John Hill Wheeler and that Jane Johnson was the
slave that preceded her. It was a remarkable discovery. I mean, it was--I
got tears in my eyes when I read it, it was so exciting.
GROSS: You've really had to be a detective with this.
Prof. GATES: Well, it was just trying to be a good historical scholar, but
there is an aspect of that to it. It's exciting, it's intriguing. I became
obsessed. You know, remember, I'm confined to home, essentially. I have
nothing else to do but watch the chad count.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. GATES: The Supreme Court robbed me of my one pleasure. I mean, in
addition to my own personal political predilections, I had filled my day with
watching CNN, watching the chad count. I mean, I would have gone down and
counted the chad with them, I was so bored. So all of a sudden, I had a
project, and between February 15th of last year, the day I purchased the
manuscript, and the end of August, when I finished writing the introduction,
all I did was think about the identity of Hannah Crafts and the peculiar
structure of this book. It was exciting. I mean, in a way it almost was a
blessing because I wouldn't have had the time to devote to such an arduous
process. I mean, it's a very detailed kind of work.
GROSS: What are the questions remaining for you to investigate before you can
say definitively who Hannah Crafts was?
Prof. GATES: Well, I can say definitively, in my opinion, that Hannah Crafts
was an African-American and a woman and a slave. I can't say where she lived
in New Jersey or if, indeed, she lived in New Jersey. I can't say to whom she
got married, a man she claims was a Methodist minister. I can't say where she
wrote this book. And most disappointing of all to me, I can't say what
happened to her after she escaped to the North. I've reached a dead end,
which is why, Terry, I published the book now. I think that other students,
other scholars, genealogists I'm starting to get e-mails from--every day I get
e-mails from genealogists who say, `I went to this cemetery and I found this
Hannah Crafts.' And then I look at their evidence and Hannah Crafts died in
1793. And I said, `Well, maybe if you read the book, you'll realize this
could not possibly be my Hannah Crafts.'
But sooner or later someone will find Hannah Crafts, and I think they will
find her in New Jersey, and the reason is she says that she ended up in New
Jersey and in 1948 Dorothy Porter buys the book from a book dealer in New
York, who says that she had bought it from a traveling book scout in New
Jersey. Now there's no reason for that manuscript to have emerged in New
Jersey if the woman hadn't written it in New Jersey, as she said.
The other reason is that none of the other slave narrators end their novels or
their autobiographies in New Jersey. It's very unusual to do that, but as it
turns out, New Jersey was an important terminal point on the underground
railroad, and there were six or seven all-black communities in New Jersey,
even a place called Timbuktu, of all things, another place called Skunk
Hollow. I think that Hannah Crafts lived in one of these black communities,
that she was, as she claims to be, a schoolteacher at the end and that she was
married to a Methodist minister. And more and more diligent research, I
think, will discover the identity of her husband and of herself. Somewhere
there is a scrap of paper, they have paid some tax, there is a birth of some
child, there is a death certificate of somebody, and that person's identity
will emerge. I deeply believe that, and that's why I'm hoping to facilitate
that search by publishing the results of my research as openly, with as many
qualifications as I can.
GROSS: Henry Louis Gates will be back in the second half of the show. The
manuscript he's edited is called "The Bondwoman's Narrative," by Hannah
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, John Favreau. He wrote the movie "Swingers" and "Made,"
and starred in them with Vince Vaughn. Now he has a new series on The
Independent Film Channel. Also, we continue our conversation with Henry Louis
Gates about authenticating a novel purportedly written by a fugitive slave.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Henry Louis Gates, the
chair of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department. He's edited a manuscript
that he believes is the first novel written by a black woman and the first by
a fugitive slave. He bought the manuscript at an auction, did a lot of work
authenticating it and has now published it with his introduction. It's
called "The Bondwoman's Narrative," by Hannah Crafts.
One of the things you wanted to be sure of was that this book was actually
written by an African-American and not a white person. And you say one of the
things that really demonstrates that is the way that the African-American
characters are introduced, which is very different from the way white writers
of the period introduced African-American characters. Would you describe some
of the differences you discerned?
Prof. GATES: In the history of the novel there may be a dozen instances--out
of the hundreds and hundreds of slave narratives and representations of
slavery, there are only about a dozen instances of a white author using a
black persona or claiming a black persona. But even in those cases, the
person outed themselves very, very quickly. The most famous example is Maddie
Griffiths(ph). In 1856 she published the autobiography of a female slave, but
within three weeks--I mean, pretending to be a black woman, but within three
weeks everyone knew who she was, one of the reasons that you have to copyright
your work. It's copyrighted in her name, etc., etc. But that's external
Internal evidence, what you're referring to, is equally telling, in fact
sometimes more telling, more damning. For example, each of those dozen white
authors, plus Harriet Beecher Stowe, when they introduce a black character,
they would say, `Here comes, you know, old wooly headed Terry Gross,' or,
`Here comes African-featured Uncle Tom,' which is basically a quote from
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Whiteness is the default, not blackness, so that as
soon as the character shows up, they identify the character as being black
through either their color of their facial features or the texture of their
hair. And this is entirely consistent throughout these dozen pseudo-slave
Hannah Crafts, by contrast, makes blackness the default. When she introduces
a black character, they're just a human being. And then later, you realize
that they are black, like maybe a couple paragraphs later or a couple pages
later. The person who pointed this out to me was Dorothy Porter. I mean,
Dorothy Porter was dead by the time I bought this manuscript, but in her notes
she said, `I am convinced that this woman's black for two reasons. First of
all, because of her realistic depictions of slave life in Virginia, and
secondly, because she treats Negro characters as human beings first and as
Negro second.' And that haunted me. I didn't know exactly what she meant.
And I read the novel and read the novel. You know, I've now read the novel a
dozen of times. And then I realized there was this whole pattern here. So I
went back to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and as you know from my footnotes, in the
introduction, I contrast Harriet Beecher Stowe's depiction of black people
with Hannah Crafts' black people, and they are completely different. They're
just totally opposite. And that suggested to me that this was an
African-American author as well.
GROSS: Is there a line you can read or paraphrase from "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
and from the book you've just published, "The Bondwoman's Narrative," that
illustrates what you're talking about here, the way a white writer of the
period introduced black characters and the way this black writer introduced
Prof. GATES: Sure. In "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Mose and Pete, who are Uncle Tom
and Aunt Chloe's sons, she describes as a couple of wooly head boys. Aunt
Chloe has what she calls, quote, "a round, black, shining face," and Uncle Tom
himself is "a full glossy black," and that's a direct quote, possessing,
quote, "a face with truly African features," unquote. Now all these
descriptions come as soon as those characters enter the novel.
Now listen to this. This is from chapter 18, called Strange Company(ph). And
our dear Hannah is running away, and this is what she says. `I cannot tell
how long I had slumbered. I had no means of knowing. But it must have been
for some time, when I was accountably wakened by a noise of an unusual kind.
Raising myself on my elbow, I looked around and listened. The moon had risen,
partially dispelling the darkness and casting long, bright streaks of light
amid the thick mass of shadows. Near by was a little opening in the branches
through which streamed a large patch of radiance. And to that, my eyes
instinctively turned. Directly crossing this were the figures of two people.
They were speaking, and the voices were those of a man and a woman. "We will
rest here," said the man. "I think we can do so in perfect safety. And you
are so ill and weary." His companion heaved a deep sigh. "This will be my
last resting place. This dreadful fever is consuming me. I feel weaker and
weaker every moment. And before morning, I shall be unable to rise."'
Well, it turns out--you keep reading, and you turn the page, and it turns out
that that man and that woman are black. Completely the opposite of the mode
of representation used by Harriet Beecher Stowe and those dozen white authors
who adopted a black persona. And that's what Dorothy Porter meant, and that
was pretty telling proof to me.
So if you think about it, we had internal evidence, such as that, as well as
intimate knowledge of slavery, and particularly the relationships between a
mistress and a female slave. Lots of counterintuitive observations throughout
this book that in my opinion only a slave would know. So there's no doubt in
my mind that this was a black woman.
And Joe Nichols points out that her handwriting is just serviceable. It's not
the elegant, refined, tiny script used by upper-class Victorian white ladies
in the North. It's the handwriting and the language, including, you know,
hundreds and hundreds of misspellings and punctuation errors of an autodidact,
someone who is self-trained, someone who's very, very intelligent, has a
native intelligence, someone who has exposure to books in a decent,
middle-class library, but who lacks formal education. And that's our Hannah
Crafts, African-American female and our first novelist.
GROSS: After you published an essay in The New Yorker in February about
authenticating this book, a couple of readers wrote in letters pointing out
that there were a couple of passages in this book that seemed to be borrowed
from Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." What questions or issues did that raise
Prof. GATES: Well, it's--first of all, I was so grateful that--the person who
pointed this out to me first was a graduate student at Princeton in the
English Department called Hollis Robbins, who's a very brilliant person and a
Dickens scholar. And she sent me an e-mail asking if I realized that Hannah
Crafts had borrowed from Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." And I said no, that
I hadn't realized that. I had been looking for echoes from "Uncle Tom's
Cabin" and from the other slave narratives, but I wasn't thinking about
Charles Dickens. And I wasn't thinking about Dickens, I'm embarrassed to say,
because none of the slave narrators had never echoed or borrowed from Charles
Dickens. Dickens just was not a source.
And I sent my working introduction, my textual annotations and the text of the
novel--that is, the typed version of the manuscript--to a dozen major scholars
throughout the United States and none of them heard the echoes either. So we
all had egg on our face, and we're all grateful that Hollis Robbins pointed
this out. And now dozens of Dickens scholars and Dickens fans have written to
me to say this person was influenced by Charles Dickens, but I think that's
marvelous. I mean, think about the democracy implied in our great republic of
letters. Here's a slave, a black woman, who had been so abused and traduced,
who had lived in Virginia and Washington and North Carolina. She escapes to
the North. She sits down to write an account of her bondage, and who does she
turn to to use a template? Well, among others, she turns to Charles Dickens
and his novel "Bleak House."
Now, Terry, one of the most marvelous aspects of doing the research for this
book is the fact that another graduate student, a man named Brian Cinch(ph),
who's writing a dissertation under William Andrews at the University of North
Carolina, was going through John Hill Wheeler's papers, which are housed both
at the Library of Congress and at the University of North Carolina, doing
research for me for this project to see, you know, what we might find, if
there was any reference to Hannah Crafts, you know, whatever might be there.
And he called me one day and he was so excited because he said he had found
Wheeler's handwritten listing--that is, his catalog--of the books in his
library circa 1850. And do you know that list included four books by Charles
Dickens. And not only that, we later found an 1880 published catalog after
Wheeler's dead and his estate's being auctioned off, and we found in addition
to more Dickens, we found maybe 10 or 12 slave narratives in his library.
Never before had we had access to the books that a slave could possibly have
read in her master's library. And this is as exciting as anything else that
GROSS: Because Hannah Crafts was self-educated, she had a lot of spelling
errors and grammatical errors. The text was handwritten. There were a lot of
things that were crossed out. How much of that did you want to feature in the
published edition of her book?
Prof. GATES: We featured it almost exactly as she wrote it. All of the
crossing-outs are there, as you've seen. We just print the words and we draw
the line through them. She didn't put periods at the end of her sentences, so
we say that we put periods there to keep the reader from getting mixed up.
And she didn't put quotation marks around direct discourse all of the time,
and we use square brackets to indicate any quotation mark or any other change
that we made in the manuscript. But essentially, we replicated the manuscript
as faithfully as we possibly could to the condition in which I received it. I
wanted it to be basically a facsimile but set in type. That was important.
The reason it's important is that this is the only manuscript written by a
slave that we can be sure was not edited by an abolitionist or an amanuensis.
All the others, or most of the others, were edited to some extent, even if
only to correct grammar, as most of the editors or amanuenses would say. Even
Frederick Douglass or Harriet Jacobs was edited by Lydia Maria Childs to some
extent. We don't know the extent. Here as the great historian at Yale,
David Brion Davis, says in a sort of blurb for the book, we have the unedited
consciousness of a slave for the first time. It's like we're sitting--she's
sitting at her kitchen table, she's writing and we are reading over her
shoulder, and that's quite exciting.
And there are many things in this book which will disturb people. For
example, it's full of sex. I mean, by standards of the 1850s, it's XXX-rated.
And I'm sure that the abolitionists would have edited this out if they had
gotten their hands on this manuscript. She talks very explicitly about sexual
relations between a master and his various mistresses, and how his wife
discovers the sexual liaisons and forces him to kick all of these mistresses
out and the babies that they have, etc., etc.
And also she's quite explicit about the class differences between house
servants and field servants. And this, I think, will bother a lot of black
people. She talks about people who smell bad or people who are ignorant or
people who are duplicitous. She's very much a snob. She's very aware of her
privileged position. She's almost like an archetype of the tragic mulatto
heroine who will emerge more especially turn of the century in fictions such
as those written by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a novel called "Iola Leroy,"
or in the works of Charles Chesnutt.
GROSS: Well, Henry Louis Gates, thank you so much for talking with us about
"The Bondwoman's Narrative." Thank you.
Prof. GATES: Thank you very much, Terry.
GROSS: Henry Louis Gates edited the manuscript "The Bondwoman's Narrative" by
Hannah Crafts. It's just been published with an introduction by Gates. He's
the chair of Harvard's Afro-Americans Studies department.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Jon Favreau discusses his career and life
TERRY GROSS, host:
Jon Favreau is best known for writing the independent movie "Swingers" and for
starring in it with Vince Vaughn. The film was set in the world of Vegas and
Hollywood clubs and lounges. Vaughn played a guy who thinks he's very cool
and tries to show the more insecure Favreau how to meet attractive women.
Favreau also starred with Vaughn in the crime comedy "Made," which Favreau
wrote and directed. Now Favreau has his own series on The Independent Film
Channel called "Dinner for Five." On each edition he and four guests from the
movie world have dinner at a restaurant and talk about movies and whatever
else is on their minds. The series premiers on Monday. The first edition
features Vince Vaughn, Garry Shandling, Peter Falk and Cheri Oteri. Here's
Favreau introducing a new topic.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JON FAVREAU (Actor/Director/Screenwriter): They have puppy play days in
Hollywood, which I've never heard of before.
Ms. CHERI OTERI (Comedian): Only in Hollywood.
Mr. FAVREAU: Somebody invites you over to have your dogs play, but there's
only a certain age group, and you are not allowed...
Ms. OTERI: They have to be, yeah, a certain age group because sometimes
puppies, if they're let with a bunch of other adult dogs and they haven't had
all their shots yet, they can catch something. So...
Mr. GARRY SHANDLING (Comedian): Beautiful. So you choose to adopt?
Ms. OTERI: Yes, I did, because I can't have a dog of my own.
Mr. SHANDLING: Yeah, it's so hard to have a dog.
Ms. OTERI: Oh.
Mr. SHANDLING: You can't actually have a dog. Can you have--you can't have a
dog. So you actually--they leave you no choice but to--that's why dogs have
low self-esteem and will, you know, listen to what you say and everything,
because they're lucky to have a home.
Ms. OTERI: Uh-huh.
Mr. VINCE VAUGHN (Actor): Now but your dog is half-chow and half...
Ms. OTERI: Not half-and-half. It's mostly, I think, golden retriever. But
no one really knows. You just have to look...
Mr. FAVREAU: Really?
Mr. VAUGHN: But that's interesting to me because the chow, I think, bites
more people than any other breed of dog each year.
Mr. FAVREAU: No, no. You're...
Ms. OTERI: But then you have a co...
Mr. FAVREAU: That's a misunderstanding.
Mr. PETER FALK (Actor): Forget about that.
Ms. OTERI: No, that--that's not true.
Mr. SHANDLING: I'm mad. I'm mad at that, too.
Mr. FALK: That's not true.
Mr. SHANDLING: I'm mad at that, too. I'm sick of that name.
Ms. OTERI: No.
Mr. FALK: Not true.
Ms. OTERI: Go ahead, Peter.
Mr. FALK: Absolutely not true.
GROSS: The conversations on "Dinner for Five" are set around a restaurant
table, but eating isn't the most flattering time to be filmed. I asked
Favreau if his guests really eat during the shoot.
Mr. FAVREAU: People actually do eat and it's actually dinnertime, and part of
it is, you know, we just have the cameras rolling before the people sit down.
They're miked already. The cameras are far away. And the idea is to sort of
lull people into the feeling that they're just having dinner and not being
observed. You know, of course it's impossible to replicate, but part of the
reason that I think it works is because everybody that comes on the show--I'd
say, like, 90 percent of the people I'm either friend with or I've worked
with, and they trust that I'm not gonna cut in shots that are unflattering.
If they say anything that they regret later, I'll cut it out. And the goal
really is to make the people as relaxed and as comfortable as they can. I
like to surround people with people that they've worked with before, people
they're friends with and try to sort of simulate the atmosphere of just being,
you know, at a dinner party with a bunch of friends.
GROSS: Now you're best known for writing and starring in "Swingers" and for
writing, starring in and directing "Made." Where was your career heading
before those films? What kind of parts were you being given?
Mr. FAVREAU: Well, I'd moved from New York to Chicago and become an
improviser--done improv comedy, and I got my big break in a film called
"Rudy," my first starring role. And I moved from Chicago out to Los Angeles
on sort of the heels of that success. I got an agent, and I had made it, in
my estimation. It was beyond anything that any of the people that I had been
working with in Chicago ever dreamed could happen because, you know, it's a
big part in a big movie. I moved out to Hollywood and, you know, the
landscape was a little more bleak than I had anticipated.
I thought I had it made. And I just sort of was at level one. You know,
there was another mountain beyond the mountain. And a year after I had moved
to Los Angeles, I had met Vince Vaughn on the set of "Rudy." We had been
hanging out, and I wrote a script based on somebody who was in LA for six
months and who had gotten over a relationship, which I had as well, and that
turned into the script for "Swingers."
GROSS: If you went to a club after making "Swingers," did you find that women
who had seen the movie related to you any differently?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yes. They were far more open to sleeping with me than before I
was famous, I found, surprisingly enough.
GROSS: To put it bluntly, yeah.
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah. That's basically the biggest difference, was, you know,
you go from somebody who was a character actor who nobody knew, who, you know,
really was like a sore thumb in Los Angeles coming from Chicago, where I was
living at the time, and no sense of style or anything, and then I moved to Los
Angeles, now all of a sudden I'm famous, for whatever that's worth. And, you
know, me just in the nature--I always went from long relationship to long
relationship. But it was nice to be flirted with. It was nice to have women
available to me. And I ended up meeting my wife really in that period because
I would only go short stretches of dating more than like one person. And I
think that much like the character in "Swingers" I really--you know, I don't
think that I was in a happy place when I was single. It's nice to be a in a
good relationship. And I have to say that now that I'm married and I have an
eight-month-old boy named Max, it makes me so much more open creatively.
GROSS: So how did you meet your wife? Was that at a club?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah, I met her at a bar. And I was, like, on a first date or a
second date with somebody who I had very little in common with. And the woman
who later became my wife came up to me just to say hello and that she liked
the movie. And she told her mom to see "Swingers" because she had just moved
to Los Angeles. And I thought she was an actress, like 90 percent of the
women you meet in Hollywood, and it turned out that she was a doctor, which
was intriguing to me. And she made such an impression on me in the short
conversation we had that I ended up calling up the hospital where she worked
and getting her pager number and getting ahold of her. And we ended up going
on a--I think out to dinner. And then I stopped being interested in seeing
other people, and we were together for a long time and we've been married now
for over a year, and we have a little boy.
GROSS: Now you grew up in Queens, New York. I believe you're half-Italian
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah.
GROSS: Do you connect certain traits in your personality or sensibility to
being Italian and being Jewish?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah, for sure. I think they both have a similar sense of
family, extended family, a certain comfort level when it comes to eating with
a lot of people. There's a...
GROSS: As you're doing in your TV show, right.
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah. I think that's--I mean, I think that's part of the reason
I'm doing "Dinner of Five," is so much of--the whole idea of storytelling--not
just storytelling but watching somebody order, watching who takes over the
table when the waiter comes, going to a restaurant and figuring out what the
right thing to order is, that's a very Italian thing, it's a very Jewish
thing, too. There's a lot of pride taken at mealtimes.
GROSS: Were you brought up either as a Catholic or as a Jew? Did you observe
Mr. FAVREAU: I was brought up as a Jew more so. Actually, I wasn't directed
in any particular direction. I did go to Hebrew school for a while. My
father's very, very--I would call him at this point probably a devout
Catholic. I know my grandmother certainly was. Catholicism was an important
part of her life, whereas Judaism wasn't that big of an element, except for
culturally, on my mother's side of the family. But I lost my mother when I
was 11 or 12. I was young. And I think that that drew me closer to that
religion, and I certainly relate more to that culture.
GROSS: My guest is screenwriter, director and actor Jon Favreau. We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is filmmaker and actor Jon Favreau. He's best known for his
films "Made" and "Swingers." Now he has a new series on The Independent Film
Channel called "Dinner for Five," in which he and four guests sit around a
dinner table and talk.
You went to the Bronx High School of Science. Were you actually considering a
science career before you pursued film?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to be an engineer. I was going to go to
Cooper Union. I was on the waiting list to a great school down by St. Mark's
Place, a free school thanks to the endowment of the Aston(ph) fortune, and I
was on the waiting list. I didn't make it in, and then I was going to go
CCNY, City College for engineering, and I decided to stay at Queens College
and do pre-engineering. And then I discovered beer and dating and college,
and I slowly got sidetracked away from a career in academia. And I wanted to
be a--I took the fire department test--I didn't get in--here in New York. And
then eventually I went cross country on a Harley-Davidson that I had bought
after working a year on Wall Street. And I stopped in Chicago and saw Mike
Myers performing improv with Chris Farley and a lot of people who are on
"Saturday Night Live" now. And I said, `This is it. This is what I want to
do,' and I moved to Chicago, and the rest is history.
GROSS: When you got to Chicago, you stayed for awhile. One of the things you
did was get a job washing dishes at the Improv.
Mr. FAVREAU: At the Second City, actually.
GROSS: At the Second City. Oh, OK.
Mr. FAVREAU: Right, where they do improv. The Improv is a stand-up club
where they don't do improv. They do stand-up. And Second City is a cabaret
theater where they do improvisation from time to time.
GROSS: Were you able to, like, learn anything about comedy by being the
dishwasher there? Did you access to the things you wanted to learn?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah, because I got free classes and I studied there. I got to
watch while I was wa...
GROSS: Did you have to do improv to get the job as the dishwasher? I mean,
did you have to audition for that?
Mr. FAVREAU: No, no. No. It's like everybody else. Everybody there wants
to be on the stage, on the main stage at Second City, because that's where
Belushi was and Bill Murray and all the people you look up to, and you want to
be just like them and get on the main stage and get plucked off and go on
"Saturday Night Live" and live the dream. And while I was there making my
bones and trying to get noticed by the people, I was washing dishes in the
kitchen attached to the greenroom of the main stage. And at that time Chris
Farley was there and Tim Meadows, and it was just hilarious what would go on
backstage when they were changing costumes. You have Chris Farley running
around naked, making everybody laugh. It was quite a scene.
And at that time, you don't really appreciate it, but now you look back, and
now that everybody's moved on to bigger and better things, or tragically, like
in a case like Chris, no longer with us, you really look back and appreciate
what was going on. And it feels almost like, you know, when they talk about
the writers' room on "Your Show of Shows" or, you know, "The Algonquin
Roundtable." You know, at the time I don't think those moments really felt
like anything that special, but with the nostalgia as time passes and careers
are formed, you realize that those moments when you were just--when I was, you
know, up to my elbows in suds, waiting for, you know, the checkout and get out
onto the street, that was probably the time when I was learning the most about
comedy, watching the improv sets every night, you know, as I was seating
people in the main room.
And that was a tremendous place to learn because when you're doing improv
you're not just learning how to act and be funny, you're learning timing,
you're learning to listen to the audience. You're creating your own material
as you perform it. You're editing your own material. You're ending scenes
when they should end. And you learn about editing, directing, writing,
acting. And so when I made the transition from acting into writing and then
later directing, it was a very easy transition that I already sort of made
because I had already worked in sketch comedy for so long.
GROSS: I understand you're writing a western about a Hasidic Jewish
Mr. FAVREAU: Yes. Actually, it's written. That movie I wrote when we were
editing "Swingers," and that was the project that Vince and I wanted to do
right after "Swingers." The problem is, financing a western is hard enough.
Financing one that features a very violent Hasidic Jewish gunfighter is even
more difficult. They don't know what a...
GROSS: Is this a comedy?
Mr. FAVREAU: Yeah. It's a comedy, but it's very true to the western form.
And it's been characterized as an anteater, which is a term for a film that
people don't know what to do with or how to market. So it becomes a very
dangerous bet. But as Vince and I become more marketable commodities in
Hollywood and as this becomes ever--you know, this is our biggest endeavor, is
to get this film made, you will see it hit the screen at some point.
GROSS: Well, John Favreau, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. FAVREAU: It's always a pleasure. I'm a listener. And I'm so proud to be
on your show. Thanks a lot.
GROSS: John Favreau's new series on The Independent Film Channel is called
"Dinner for Five." It premieres Monday with encore presentations on Wednesday
and Saturday. His movie "Made" is now out on DVD.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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