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Charles Waddell Chesnutt

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Charles Waddell Chesnutt

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born to free blacks Andrew Jackson Chesnutt and Anne Maria Sampson, in Cleveland, Ohio, on 20 June 1858. Chesnutt's parents had recently emigrated from Fayetteville, N.C.

After the Civil War, when he was eight years old, Chesnutt's parents returned to Fayetteville, where Charles worked part-time in the family grocery store and attended a school founded by the Freedmen's Bureau.

In 1872 financial necessity forced him to begin a teaching career in Charlotte, N.C. But he soon returned to Fayetteville in 1877 to become an instructor in the new State Colored Normal School. He was appointed principal the following year and married Susan Perry. During this time, he continued to pursue private studies of the English classics, foreign languages, music, and stenography. Despite his successes, he experienced constant discrimination. His continued longing to develop the literary skills would, by 1880, led him toward an author's life.

After a brief stay in New York, in 1884 he moved his family (which now included three children) to Cleveland. Chesnutt worked as a court reporter until he passed the state bar examination(with the highest score), and established a successful legal stenography firm.

Financially secure, he pursued his dream of a literary career and began authoring essays on social issues and publishing humorous sketches. In August 1887, at the age of twenty-nine, he published his first short story, "The Goophered Grapevine," in The Atlantic, one of the most prestigious magazines in the country.

Chesnutt's African heritage, however, remained a quiet secret even though he made it clear to his editors in 1891; most readers assumed he was white.

After receiving critical acclaim for "The Wife of His Youth," published in The Atlantic in July 1898, Chesnutt published an Uncle Julius collection, The Conjure Woman, in March 1899. The success of these two works convinced publishers Houghton and Mifflin to publish Chesnutt's first novel, The House Behind the Cedars, in 1900. This story of two blacks who pass for white in the postwar South revealed Chesnutt's

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