First published in Boston in 1859, Our Nig, or, Sketches form the Life of a Free Black offers a harrowing portrait of the sadistic maltreatment of Alfrado, a young female African American bond servant. It shows how racism can infect the whole body politic and how enslavement can exist not just as a legally defined institution but also as an apparatus of social practices and norms, even in a slave-free State, namely Massachusetts. The novel thus shows how slavery can indeed exist in ‘freedom’. Our Nig is a milestone in African American writing. It stands as the first published novel to be written by an African American woman and the first African American novel to be published in the USA.Limited in its circulation, Our Nig remained hardly noticed until brought back to the public’s attention in 1983, when Henry Louis Gates Jr. released a facsimile edition. Only then did it start to receive the acclaim it deserved. This is the first modern edition to be published.
R.J. Ellis is chair of the American and Canadian Studies Department at the University of Birmingham.
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