William Wells Brown: An African American Life

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W. W. Norton & Company, Oct 6, 2014 - Biography & Autobiography - 448 pages

A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 'Biography'

A groundbreaking biography of the most pioneering and accomplished African-American writer of the nineteenth century.

Born into slavery in Kentucky, raised on the Western frontier on the farm adjacent to Daniel Boone’s, “rented” out in adolescence to a succession of steamboat captains on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the young man known as “Sandy” reinvented himself as “William Wells” Brown after escaping to freedom. He lifted himself out of illiteracy and soon became an innovative, widely admired, and hugely popular speaker on antislavery circuits (both American and British) and went on to write the earliest African American works in a plethora of genres: travelogue, novel (the now canonized Clotel), printed play, and history. He also practiced medicine, ran for office, and campaigned for black uplift, temperance, and civil rights.

Ezra Greenspan’s masterful work, elegantly written and rigorously researched, sets Brown’s life in the richly rendered context of his times, creating a fascinating portrait of an inventive writer who dared to challenge the racial orthodoxies and explore the racial complexities of nineteenth-century America.


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William Wells Brown: An African American Life

User Review  - Book Verdict

Abolitionist, doctor, and novelist of Clotel, William Wells Brown was originally known as Sandy and grew up enslaved on a farm next to Daniel Boone's before his escape and meteoric rise. Read full review

WILLIAM WELLS BROWN: An African-American Life

User Review  - Kirkus

A scholar fills in the gaps in the life of a former slave who became one of the most famous African-Americans of the 19th century.Greenspan (English/Southern Methodist Univ.; editor: William Wells ... Read full review


Down the River Up the River
Sweet Freedom
The Road to Reform
Narrative of a Life Life of a Narrative
Upon an Experimental Voyage
The Black Man at
Help Me to Find My People
My Southern Home Revisited
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About the author (2014)

Ezra Greenspan is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor of English at Southern Methodist University and the editor of William Wells Brown: A Reader. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

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