Originally published in 1853, Clotel is the first novel by an African American. William Wells Brown, a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, was well known for his abolitionist activities. In Clotel, the author focuses on the experiences of a slave woman: Brown treats the themes of gender, race, and slavery in distinctive ways, highlighting the mutability of identity as well as the absurdities and cruelties of slavery. The plot includes several mulatto characters, such as Clotel, who live on the margins of the black and white worlds, as well as a woman who dresses as a man to escape bondage; a white woman who is enslaved; and a famous white man who is mistaken for a mulatto. In her Introduction, scholar Joan E. Cashin highlights the most interesting features of this novel and its bold approach to gender and race relations. This volume, the latest in the American History Through Literature series, is suitable for a variety of undergraduate courses in American history, cultural history, women's studies, and slavery.
William Wells Brown (November 6, 1814 - November 6, 1884) was a prominent abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama, and wrote what is considered to be the first novel by an African American. An almost exact contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells Brown was overshadowed by Douglass and the two feuded publicly.