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Featured Books

Featured Books

The Complete Tales of Uncle RemusSummary and Reviews of The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus
Mingo and other Sketches in Black and WhiteSummary and Reviews of Mingo and other Sketches in Black and White
Free Joe, and Other Georgian SketchesSummary and Reviews of Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches
Sister Jane, Her Friends and AcquaintancesSummary and Reviews of Sister Jane, Her Friends and Acquaintances
On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures During the War [1892]Summary and Reviews of On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures During the War [1892]
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Joel Chandler Harris

Click the banner or the individual items listed to buy and read Harris's work.

Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908) was another southern writer, famous not only for his stories but also for the modern controversy surrounding them.  However, his story is much more complex than the controversy makes it seem.  He was born in Georgia into a poor family.  His father deserted his family early on.  Even though his mother worked as a seamstress, thirteen-year-old Joel left home to become an apprentice to Joseph Addison Turner, a newspaper publisher.  While he was on Turner's plantation, on which he housed his newspaper shop, Harris learned the folk tales for which he would become famous.

After the Civil War, Harris worked for several southern newspapers and finally got a job on the editorial staff of the Atlanta Constitution.  Henry Woodfin Grady (1850-1889) ran the Constitution, which completely supported the restoration of the Union, establishing the "New South."  Harris played a role in the paper's coverage of Reconstruction, but his key contribution to the paper's stance on the rebuilding of the Union was his retelling of slave narratives through the eyes of the black character, Uncle Remus.  Remus originally was an urban ex-slave who told the story of other ex-slaves trying to establish a place in the white society through education and politics.  The character later morphed into the kind old black man who told symbolic stories of physically weak animals out smarting strong animals.  These stories were progressive for the time but have my critics today because they romanticize the relationship between slave owner and slave, ignoring the inherent and physical cruelty of the system.

The Uncle Remus stories were reprinted in many southern newspapers   Harris published his first book, Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings, in 1880.  Nights With Uncle Remus came in 1883.  The essential Uncle Remus story with the tar baby was in the first Uncle Remus collection.  Because of the initial popularity of Uncle Remus' stories, Harris had to churn out more and more stories, which hurt the quality of the later stories.

In the 1880s and '90s, Harris began producing stories in earnest, starting with Mingo and Other Sketches in Black and White (1884) and Free Joe, and Other Georgian Sketches (1887).  He wrote a novel and stories about another character named Uncle Billy Sanders.  Unfortunately, for Harris's legacy, he could never escape the popularity of Uncle Remus. 

Harris always claimed he was only compiling stories that others had imagined, but later critics have rightly praised Harris for adding his vivid imagination to his narratives.  Concerning the current criticisms of Harris, he may have romanticized race relations in the "Old South." The truth is, though, he was one of the first white writers not to depict black people as vicious and cruel.  For that, he deserves credit.


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