January 22, 2015
DALLAS (SMU) — Distinguished SMU English Professor Ezra Greenspan’s acclaimed biography William Wells Brown: An African American Life (W.W. Norton) was named a finalist for a prestigious National Book Critics Circle awards recognizing the best books of 2014.
Literary and cultural historian Greenspan, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Chair in Humanities at SMU, is one of 30 highly respected authors nominated in six categories for the National Book Critics Circle awards — the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book-review editors.
NBCC winners will be honored March 12 at New York City’s New School during a free public ceremony in which legendary author and creative force Toni Morrison will receive the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. (For details about nominees and the event visit http://bookcritics.org/blog/.)
Greenspan’s well-researched and richly written biography about the man he calls “the most rivetingly inventive, entertaining black writer of his era” sheds light on prolific writer and charismatic orator William Wells Brown (1814-1884).
After escaping slavery, Brown would, against all odds, become the first African American to write a novel, a printed play, a travelogue as a fugitive slave living in Europe, and three volumes of black history that included the first book about African American soldiers’ experiences during the Civil War. A powerful public speaker who engaged audiences across the United States, Canada and the British Isles over a 40-year career, he was one of the foremost antislavery and civil rights activists of the 19th century.
Though the work of the dynamic author-abolitionist nearly faded into obscurity in the Jim Crow era after Reconstruction, Greenspan’s William Wells Brown presents what Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls an enthralling “experimental voyage” illuminating the 19th century dynamo’s “improvisational genius” while ensuring that Brown’s “rightful place in the constellation of leading black men and women of letters will remain fixed for future generations.”
Greenspan’s biography joins the other 2014 book he compiled to celebrate Brown’s bicentennial: the 1,042-page anthology William Wells Brown: Clotel & Other Writings (Library of America), the most comprehensive collection of Brown’s work ever published.
For more on both Greenspan works about Brown, which have garnered extensive media coverage (and glowing reviews by The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Washington Post), see http://www.smu.edu/News/2014/ezra-greenspan-books-13nov2014.
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