ECU scholar links slave manuscript, eastern NC
(June 8, 2004)
An East Carolina University English professor's quest to research local links to a fugitive slave will be assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Gregg Hecimovich received the endowment's $5,000 "We the People" stipend to study Hannah Crafts and her connections to North Carolina. Crafts, who was likely a slave who lived in the 1850s, is believed to be the first African American woman to have written a novel.
Hecimovich, who has taught Victorian literature at ECU since 2002, said he looks forward to making a contribution to the life of Hannah Crafts and her work.
"If my project bears the fruit that I think it promises to bear, Hannah Crafts and North Carolina will make a lasting contribution to African-American history, American history, North Carolina history, and the history of the novel," Hecimovich said.
Crafts' story received international attention when Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., bought her manuscript at an auction and published The Bondswoman's Narrative in 2002.
Since Gates' discovery, scholars such as Hecimovich have been scouring Crafts' manuscript trying to authenticate her identity. Prominent in her text is the John Hill Wheeler family, which owned slaves in Bertie County in 19th Century North Carolina. For his research and book project, Hecimovich plans to research the Kate Wheeler Cooper Collection housed at ECU's Joyner Library.
In addition to the materials available in Joyner Library's Special Collections room, Hecimovich will also consider the literary influences that helped to shape Crafts' work, from Charlotte Bronte to Charles Dickens. Hecimovich was one of 16 scholars in the nation to receive the NEH "We the People" stipend. The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the U.S. Government, which supports research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.