CHESTERTOWN, MD—A new book by Alisha Knight, associate professor of English and American Studies at Washington College, offers the first full-length critical analysis of pioneering African American writer Pauline Hopkins. Just released by the University of Tennessee Press, Knight’s Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream: An African American Writer’s (Re)Visionary Gospel of Success will provide literary scholars and historians alike with insight into the life and writings of a woman who openly confronted discrimination at the turn of the century.
“Pauline Hopkins broke the mold of the domestic tradition of nineteenth-century women’s writing, choosing instead to use self-made African American men and women to critique the racism and sexism that prevailed in American society,” says Knight.
A prolific writer, Hopkins published four novels, seven short stories, and numerous articles for the Colored American Magazine, where she also worked as an editor, in just the four-year period between 1900 and 1904. The Maine native lost her position at the magazine because of her habit of challenging authority figures with her then-revolutionary ideas about how literature should be used to advocate racial and gender equality in a Post-Civil War America. Her “Famous Men” and “Famous Women” series for the Colored American Magazine offered African American models of success, but her fiction often depicted African American heroes who either failed to achieve success at home because of societal barriers, or found success only after leaving the United States.
“I've always been interested in authors who have been underrepresented in the canon and in the classroom,” Knight explains, “and being able to study Pauline Hopkins at length has been fulfilling. I’m pleased that Hopkins has been gaining attention, and I hope my book helps make her work more accessible to students and everyday readers. Hopkins wanted her writing to reach a broad audience, and she worked hard to produce material that was both straightforward and intellectually engaging. I would like to think that my book does likewise.”
Dr. Knight is a summa cum laude graduate of Spelman College who went on to earn a master’s from Rutgers and both a master’s and doctorate from Drew University. In addition to teaching at Washington College, she directs the Black Studies Program, which encourages a greater understanding of black culture and a new appreciation for the impact people of African descent have made on world cultures and human history.
Among Dr. Knight’s published articles are “Furnace Blasts for the Tuskegee Wizard: Revisiting Pauline E. Hopkins, Booker T. Washington, and the Colored American Magazine” (American Periodicals) and “One and One Make One: A Metacritical and Psychoanalytic Reading of Friendship in Toni Morrison's Sula” (College Language Association Journal). Recipient of a prestigious Career Enhancement Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation in 2007, she is currently working on a study of late 19th and early 20th century African American book publishing practices.