Talking Book

A Remarkable Southern Gentleman

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I have become acquainted with a remarkable mulatto gentleman by the name of Charles Chestnutt. Like no author we know of today, Chestnutt understands the parallel spirits of life in the South – his literary mind and ear attune to its slow evening feeling and smoldering wound of disunity – and speaks both its tongues on the page. Though my own work has tried to break apart the problem of racial tension in our country in the spirit of reform, Chestnutt paints life on both sides of the color line as it looks permeated with the magical energy of our land’s folklore. When we met, he and I spoke of Macon College, and of Johns Hopkins University, two places where a great deal of my time was spent.  Like few others, Chestnutt has the spirit of a truly civil North Carolinian to him, and shares my conviction that the South will never see health till the white and Negro causes are one.  

We met initially upon the occasion of his submission to The Atlantic a number of short stories about the state of the South after the war. His first works ran while Thomas Bailey Aldrich was still presiding over the editorial desk, but as he promptly evacuated that position I found myself in more regular contact with Mr. Chestnutt, who offered a continuing wealth of short works on the lives of colored folks, threaded through with a most faithful transcription of North Carolinian dialect, and yet still shimmering with a patchwork of mystery and high sentiment.

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