Talking Book

Journal Entry for A good day’s work

I wanted to create a vivid character with a clearly defined social position vis a vis Chesnutt. The name has a Nabokovian anagrammatic twist, and I wanted to make her a bit nasty, but no less so than some of the second-tier gatekeepers in the l.19thC literary sphere. And I wanted to thematize the question of who owns AAVE in this moment, whether Chesnutt is an authentic, if naive agent of black speech, or an inauthentic agent of it because “Yankee” and/or of limited mental capacity because black, or a merely “mimetic” agent as Sussmann explores in his work.

I drew the quoted passages from a real review from the main Nashville paper of the era. The entire text and cite are below:

THE author of this collection of stories writes very well and makes interesting matter of his tales of negro superstition, astuteness and wit. Nevertheless to a Southern mind there is just the least suspicion of a false note in his delineations of negro character. There seems to be lacking that fullness of understanding which only those born and reared in dominance over this particular people can wholly possess. And while the pictures here given are of interest, and the blending of old-time superstitions of hoodoos and conjure folk with the child-like shrewdness of the darkey in his practical views of life are well-done and readable, yet the study seems to show evidence of a knowledge that is carefully garnered, but not innate as that of the only perfectly satisfactory writers in this line have always been.

Anon. “The Conjure Woman.” The Nashville American. (Apr. 23, 1899): 18.

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