Author Gregg Hecimovich to discuss his biography of Hannah Crafts, first African American woman novelist, Feb. 8

Gregg Hecimovich (photo by Jeremy Fleming)
Gregg Hecimovich (photo by Jeremy Fleming)

Vanderbilt alumnus and author Gregg Hecimovich will discuss his acclaimed biography, The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of The Bondwoman’s Narrative (HarperCollins, 2023), at the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries on Thursday, Feb. 8. Hecimovich’s work is a detailed account of the life of Crafts, believed to be the first African American woman to write a novel. His talk will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Central Library Community Room.  

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a reading by Hecimovich, a Q&A session with audience members and a book signing. Copies of Hecimovich’s book will be available for purchase on site from Parnassus Books.  

Those who plan to attend are asked to RSVP by Feb. 2. 

Crafts’ story first came to light in 2001, when historian and scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. acquired at auction a handwritten manuscript, dating to the mid-1800s, that depicted an enslaved woman’s early life and escape from slavery in North Carolina. After verifying its authenticity, Gates edited the manuscript and published it in 2002 as The Bondswoman’s Narrative, which became a national bestseller. However, much about the manuscript’s author—credited as “Hannah Crafts”—remained unknown.  

The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts book cover
(Image courtesy of HarperCollins)

Through forensic analysis of the physical manuscript, as well as meticulous research of contemporaneous figures and events, Hecimovich identified the author as Hannah Bond, a woman born into slavery in North Carolina, who was able to hone her literacy skills before escaping in 1857 to New York and later settling in New Jersey. Many of the details of Bond’s novel and those of her protagonist mirror her own life. 

Hecimovich’s book, which incorporates some two decades of his research, has been described as part detective story, part thriller and part cultural history documenting the rich and complex lived experience of slavery. It’s also the rare example of a full-scale biography of an enslaved woman. “Life illuminates art, and art illuminates life, and so it is with Hecimovich’s biography,” Gates writes in the foreword to the book, which recently was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards as well as one of the “10 Best Books of 2023” by The Washington Post.

Hecimovich earned his master’s and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt. He is a Hutchins Family Fellow at Harvard University and a professor of English at Furman University. The author and editor of six books and volumes, Hecimovich is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center and others. 

Vanderbilt’s Department of English, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center and Heard Libraries are co-sponsors of the Feb. 8 event, which supports the university’s commitment to creating an environment in which all members of our community can engage in dialogue, learning, innovation and discovery and feel that they belong. 

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