The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales

The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: October 1993

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

The stories in The Conjure Woman were Charles W. Chesnutt's first great literary success, and since their initial publication in 1899 they have come to be seen as some of the most remarkable works of African American literature from the Emancipation through the Harlem Renaissance. Lesser known, though, is that the The Conjure Woman, as first published by Houghton Mifflin, was not wholly Chesnutt's creation but a work shaped and selected by his editors. This edition reassembles for the first time all of Chesnutt's work in the conjure tale genre, the entire imaginative feat of which the published Conjure Woman forms a part. It allows the reader to see how the original volume was created, how an African American author negotiated with the tastes of the dominant literary culture of the late nineteenth century, and how that culture both promoted and delimited his work.
In the tradition of Uncle Remus, the conjure tale listens in on a poor black southerner, speaking strong dialect, as he recounts a local incident to a transplanted northerner for the northerner's enlightenment and edification. But in Chesnutt's hands the tradition is transformed. No longer a reactionary flight of nostalgia for the antebellum South, the stories in this book celebrate and at the same time question the folk culture they so pungently portray, and ultimately convey the pleasures and anxieties of a world in transition. Written in the late nineteenth century, a time of enormous growth and change for a country only recently reunited in peace, these stories act as the uneasy meeting ground for the culture of northern capitalism, professionalism, and Christianity and the underdeveloped southern economy, a kind of colonial Third World whose power is manifest in life charms, magic spells, and ha'nts, all embodied by the ruling figure of the conjure woman.
Humorous, heart-breaking, lyrical, and wise, these stories make clear why the fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt has continued to captivate audiences for a century.


“The superb editorial work of Richard H. Brodhead has given us an excellent basis on which to continue the reinterpretation of Chesnutt that is underway. An important forerunner of Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison, among others, Chesnutt is a writer of interest in many fields and a key voice in nineteenth-century African-American culture.” — Eric J. Sundquist, Journal of American History

"Finally, we have Charles W. Chesnutt's conjure woman stories as he wrote them, not as Houghton Mifflin edited them. This collection is a landmark in American literary publishing for it helps us to understand the pressures exerted upon all authors and especially on African American writers. More important, these wonderful stories are now available to a new generation of readers." — Cathy N. Davidson

"The publication of the conjure tales of Chesnutt constituted a crucial development in the history of African American [literature]. Yet up to now no one has attempted to do what Brodhead has done--namely, collect all the stories in this vein and publish them with an introduction that explains their import individually, serially, and as a collection. . . . His introduction augments the best scholarship that's been done on Chesnutt with his own broad expertise in the history of American fiction and his acute readings of individual Chesnutt tales." — William L. Andrews, University of Kansas


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858- 1932) is the author of The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories (1899), The House Behind the Cedars (1900), The Marrow of Tradition (1901), and Colonel's Dream (1905).

Richard H. Brodhead, Professor of English at Yale University, is the author of numerous books about nineteenth-century American Literature, including Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction 1

Chronology of Composition 23

A Note on the Text 25

Selected Bibliography 27

The Conjure Woman

The Goophered Grapevine 31

Po' Sandy 44

Mars Jeems's Nightmare 55

The Conjurer's Revenge 70

Sis' Becky's Pickaninny 82

The Gray Wolf's Ha'nt 94

Hot-Foot Hannibal 107

Related Tales

Dave's Neckliss 123

A Deep Sleeper 136

Lonesome Ben 146

The Dumb Witness 158

A Victim of Heredity; or, Why the Darkey Loves Chicken 172

Tobe's Tribulations 183

The Marked Tree 194
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1387-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1378-6
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