Two Scholars Discover What May Be the First True Novel Written by a Black Woman

Professor William L. Andrews, the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has produced a manuscript that he believes is the first novel published by a black woman in the United States. The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride was first published in 1865 as a serialized novel in the Christian Recorder, the national newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The author of the novel was Julia C. Collins, a black woman who was a schoolteacher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She died of tuberculosis before completing her work.

Mitch Kachun, an associate professor of history at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, came across the serialized novel when he was conducting research on another topic. He contacted Professor Andrews, a well-known expert on early African-American literature. The two scholars edited the text, added two possible endings, and have published the work in a new book by Oxford University Press.

Little is known about the author Julia C. Collins, but census records confirm that she existed and was black. Andrews believes that two books written in the 1850s and rediscovered by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts and Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, are largely autobiographical, although some fictional accounts may be included in each book. But the Collins work is clearly a complete work of fiction. Therefore, Andrews and Kachun believe that The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride is the first “true novel” published by a black woman.