9/17/2004

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Contact: Sarah Arbuthnot, Project on the History of Black Writing, (785) 864-2561

Black writing project brings Pace author to discuss 19th-century slave's book

LAWRENCE -- The Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a lecture focusing on the life and writing of Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897), the only African-American woman held in slavery whose papers have been found.

Jean Fagan Yellin, author and distinguished professor emerita of Pace University, will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, in Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union. A 6 p.m. reception in Alderson will precede her talk about Jacobs whose book "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself," was published in 1861.

Jacobs' book and papers are among early examples of black writing talent in the United States. Her life and work have been featured in the PBS documentary series "Africans in America" series and in the new PBS documentary series "Slavery and the Making of America" scheduled to air in 2005.

Yellin is editor and director of the Harriet Jacobs Papers Project at Pace. Her newest book, "Harriet Jacobs: A Life" was published in January 2004, and she is working on a two-volume edition of Jacobs' papers to be published by the University of North Carolina Press.

"Without the Harriet Jacobs papers, millions of 19th-century African-American women would remain without a voice," Yellin says. "Histories cannot be written, nor films produced, nor curricula developed which express the historic pluralism of our national culture until the words and acts of African-American women held in slavery are heard."

Yellin's visit to KU is in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Project on the History of Black Writing, of which she is a board member.

Maryemma Graham, founder and director of the Project on the History of Black Writing, joined KU's faculty as a professor of English in 1996, bringing the Project to KU from Northeastern University in Boston. Graham founded the project while at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, in 1984, when it was titled the Afro-American Novel Project.

In 1988, Yellin published an edition of Jacobs' "Incidents" through Harvard University Press that has become a classic, used in thousands of college and high school courses on American history and literature and in ethnic, women's and American studies.

Yellin was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "Women and Sisters: The Anti-Slavery Feminists in American Culture" (1990), and is the editor of several definitive editions of classic 19th-century American texts, including Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

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