Kentucky’s First Writer

This month Lexington’s Carnegie Center honored half a dozen authors as the freshman class in Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Among the initial inductees is Kentucky’s first writer: William Wells Brown.

Brown was born in 1814 and escaped slavery at twenty years of age. He became a prominent abolitionist whose writing includes memoir, fiction, and historical non-fiction. Brown’s memoir begins:

I was born in Lexington, Ky. The man who stole me as soon as I was born, recorded the births of all the infants which he claimed to be born his property, in a book which he kept for that purpose.

The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave has a place among other slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass’ and Harriet Ann Jacobs’. His story is harrowing and awe-inspiring.

Brown’s most significant work, though, is Clotel; or the President’s Daughter, a fictional account of Thomas Jefferson’s progeny. This book stands out as the first novel by an African-American and stands along side other 19th century American classics, such as Moby Dick, which […]