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Reader Responses W.D. Howells on Chesnutt and the Color Line Answers from Werner Sollors Why Read Chesnutt Today?

The House Behind the Cedars

Why read Chesnutt Today?; William L. Andrews responds

Exclusive to CharlesChestnutt.org; December 2001 Related Links

Charles W. Chesnutt was the most widely-read and critically-respected African American fiction writer of his era, a pioneering realist whose treatment of racial issues was far in advance of his time.

Why do you read Chesnutt today? Mail us your reasons and we will post a selection of reader responses here.
 

He was also a literary innovator whose mastery of his craft, particularly in the short story, enabled him to place a distinctive personal signature on his public message. Chesnutt's short stories often employ a feel-good storytelling pose to mask a probing investigation of various forms of prejudice—among people of color as well as whites. Chesnutt's novels test his readers' capacity to identify with African American characters whose search for opportunity and justice, were they white (and often they are very near white) would have seemed justifiable, but because they aren't white, often brings about suffering and tragedy. Chesnutt was the first African American literary figure audacious enough to suggest that white bugaboos about race were really intended to preserve class hierarchies, much more than color differences.

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William L. Andrews is the author of The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt.