Sunday, July 3, 2011

David S. Reynolds

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of Walt Whitman’s America, John Brown, Abolitionist, Beneath the American Renaissance, Faith in Fiction, and Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize.

From a Q & A about his new book, Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q. What did [Harriet Beecher Stowe] understand the most about slavery?

A: She understood that African Americans are human. That sounds pedestrian, but in that era, African Americans were perceived as subhuman, or different from whites. Her novel is all about how African Americans can be as loyal to their families and devoted to their homes, parents and children, and each other, as white people can. They also have the capacity to be religious, which to Harriet Beecher Stowe was very important. They weren't just beasts that could be whipped, chained, sexually exploited, and sometimes tortured. She made Americans feel the pain and agony that slaves were going through, made them feel the real humanity of black people in a way that nobody had done before.

Q: What else made her book so effective?

A: Before she wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," she had written for popular magazines for 15 years, so she had a good sensitivity to what the popular audience wanted. It almost became part of her unconscious mind. When she wrote the novel, she produced these scenes that rang all these popular-culture bells for the audience of that time. The book became an international sensation as well and was translated into 16 languages and sold about 310,000 copies in America and at least 1.5 million abroad.

Q: What did she miss?

A: James Baldwin ...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Mightier Than the Sword.

Writer's Read: David S. Reynolds.

--Marshal Zeringue