Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New Patrick Henry Fellow to Research America's Slave Coast for New Book

CHESTERTOWN, MD—He has authored a pioneering book on Cuban music, written eloquently about the colorful history of New Orleans, and been lauded as one of the most original figures on the New York music scene. And now Ned Sublette, an internationally renowned historian, musicologist, author, and singer-songwriter, has been awarded the 2010-11 Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship at Washington College.

The fellowship, provided by the College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers a yearlong residency to authors doing innovative work on America's founding era and its legacy. Sublette will spend the academic year at Washington College working on a groundbreaking history of what can rightfully be called the American slave coast: the mid-Atlantic port cities that supplied a steady flow of laborers to the slave markets of the Deep South.

As part of the fellowship, he and his wife, the writer Constance Ash, will live in a restored 1735 house in the heart of Chestertown's colonial historic district and share his expertise with the Washington College community through special student programs, public talks and musical performances. “We're fascinated by historic Chestertown,” he says, “and I think this residency will mark a turning point in my work. In 2010-11, I am going to live and breathe history.” (Washington College acquired the Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence in January 2007 through a generous gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County. The Nuttles are direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry.)

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of having Ned Sublette in Chestertown for the year,” says Adam Goodheart, the Starr Center’s Hodson Trust-Griswold Director. “As both a performer and a scholar, he is a model for interdisciplinary work, and will be a dynamic addition to the Washington College community.”

Sublette’s latest book project blazes new ground. While several excellent monographs have chronicled the role of specific mid-Atlantic port cities in the oceangoing domestic slave trade, none have explored the region as a whole as a “slave coast,” similar in character and function, if not in scale, to the West African coast.

For much of the early to mid-19th century, after the U.S. Congress forbade further importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, a domestic slave-breeding industry grew up around cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Norfolk. The constant fear of sale (or kidnap) hung over the black communities of the mid-Atlantic like a specter, prompting some famous escapes from the region, including those of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

A native of Texas, Sublette has spent most of his working life in New York City. He is the author of several well-received books, including The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans (2009) and The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square (2008), both published by Lawrence Hill Books, and Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press, 2004).

Sublette is also a classically trained guitarist and a songwriter whose credits including composing Willie Nelson’s hit single “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly.” His albums as composer and vocalist include Cowboy Rumba, Monsters from the Deep and the forthcoming Kiss You Down South, and he has produced recordings by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Los Van Van, Maraca Y Otra Visión, Viento de Agua, and many others. He has been a producer for Public Radio International’s Afropop Worldwide, co-founding that program’s scholarly Hip Deep series, and was co-founder of the record label Qbadisc, which distributed Cuban music in the United States.

Sublette holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of New Mexico and a M.A. from the University of California at San Diego. He has received past fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

Launched by the Starr Center in 2008, the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship is permanently endowed as part of a $2.5 million challenge grant package that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded through its nationwide “We the People” initiative for strengthening the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture. Co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College's center for literature and the literary arts, it aims to encourage reflection on the links between American history and contemporary culture, and to foster the literary art of historical writing. Last year's Patrick Henry Fellow, Marla R. Miller, spent her time in Chestertown completing her book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, which was published by Henry Holt in April, 2010. The fellowship complements another program administered by the Starr Center—the George Washington Book Prize, which is awarded annually to an author whose work advances public understanding of the Revolution and its legacy.

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center and on the Patrick Henry Fellowships, visithttp://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
July 6, 2010

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