February Bookshelf: Two Tales of New Hampshire Life
You have to wonder what Harriet Wilson would think – more than 100 years after her autobiographical novel, “Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black,” was published, it’s receiving fresh acclaim from academics, activists and others. No doubt she would be amazed.
Wilson’s book is generally considered the first work of fiction written by an African American woman published in the United States. It’s a tale that mirrors her life as a woman of mixed racial heritage living – and being abused -as a servant indentured to a Milford, N.H., family as well as her life beyond that. Its importance in today’s world comes from the fact that her experiences portray New England and specifically New Hampshire as a place where racism and discrimination were commonplace, contradicting the conventional wisdom that the North was free of such things.
In “Harriet Wilson’s New England” [University of New Hampshire Press, $26 in paperback], her writing is held up like a fine diamond and examined facet by facet by people who add context and meaning to her work. One of those people is scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who re-discovered “Our Nig” and re-published it in 1983. From his and the others’ words you get a deep understanding of what took place just a short journey from, as Gates put it, “hotbeds of Abolition and freethinking.”
Laurie Bogart Morrow was a New Yorker, not at all used to the rural life in New Hampshire when she came here from Manhattan as a bride. She moved into the creaky farmhouse her husband inherited and learned to love small-town life.
With a writer’s eye she observed the comings and goings of the townspeople and her experiences became a book, “The Hardscrabble Chronicles” [The Berkley Publishing Group, $14]. Hardscrabble is the name she and Corey Ford (more on him later) give the town, which some say is really the east central N.H. town of Freedom.
Her fine writing paints a portrait so vivid you feel you’re moving among the characters – Bert, George, Doris, Judge Parker and the rest. Then there are the dogs – they are as much a part of the story as the people.
Morrow’s book was inspired by the writings of well-known Field & Stream columnist Corey Ford’s Hardscrabble tales from years back. In fact, Morrow’s book contains Ford’s “The Road to Tinkhamtown,” a short story that Corey considered his best, but was never published in his lifetime. With that inclusion, you can enjoy the writings of two people with much to say about the joys and challenges of living in a small New Hampshire town.