Talking Book

The “fiction” of Conjure Tales? In response to Mr. Du Bois


Dear Mr. Du Bois,

I am a large supporter of your work, and I recognize the efforts you make daily for your work. I cannot help but agree with the sentiment you raised in questioning Chesnutt’s motivations in labeling his work as fictitious. The pain felt by those suffering under the oppression of slavery was all but too real, and I do take issue with his use of “voodoo” tales. I believe that these superstitious tales would serve as a blindfold to ignorant white readers, in that their disbelief of such tales (much like the character John’s) would prevent them from recognizing the underlying atrocities that the characters endure. By writing off Julius’ tales as superstitious slave folklore, and seeing the stories labeled as fiction, only the most intellectual of readers and critics would see the that the pain and bloodshed felt by the slaves was realer than any voodoo tale could be. I am unsure in your affirmation of Chesnutt’s being an African descendant, and even if his work could serve to illuminate the atrocities of slavery, his complexion grants him a special privilege in the literary world. You sir, must truly understand. Chesnutt’s ability to be perceived as a white man grants him the ability to travel within elite literary circles, which allows his work to be published more easily. To reap the benefits of being fair skinned, while experiencing few of the obstacles that dark men such as myself must battle with on a daily basis, would be an insult to the great literary minds of easily discernible African descendants. I admire your work, Mr. Du Bois, however I question your affiliation with Chesnutt. I fear it may prevent you from examining his work in as critical a manner as someone who doesn’t know him personally.

A humble supporter,

J. Waters

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