Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

6/1/2011 - 5/31/2012

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

William Wells Brown: An African American Life

FAIN: FA-55748-11

Ezra Greenspan
Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX 75205-1902)

This project consists of a comprehensive literary and cultural biography of the pioneering African American writer, William Wells Brown. It combines a deeply researched presentation of Brown's life and career with a critical analysis of his connection to and participation in the nineteenth-century culture of letters.

Media Coverage

‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan (Review)
Author(s): Nell Irvin Painter
Publication: New York Times Book Review
Date: 11/14/2014
Abstract: Featured in Sunday Book Review, online and print edition under title "Truth Be Told."

William Wells Brown may be the most famous 19th century African American writer you've never heard of (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Fred Wasser
Publication: PRI's The World
Date: 11/14/2014
Abstract: Interview with Prof. Greenspan on his new book for Public Radio International.

Ezra Greenspan Rescues William Wells Brown from Obscurity in New Biography (Review)
Author(s): Steven G. Kellman
Publication: Texas Observer
Date: 10/24/2014
Abstract: N/A

Wiliam Wells Brown (Media Coverage)
Publication: The New Yorker, 'Briefly Noted'
Date: 10/20/2014
Abstract: Featured in the New Yorker's 'Briefly Noted' section.

Associated Products

William Wells Brown: An African American Life (Book)
Title: William Wells Brown: An African American Life
Author: Ezra Greenspan
Abstract: A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 'Biography' A groundbreaking biography of the most pioneering and accomplished African-American writer of the nineteenth century. Born into slavery in Kentucky, raised on the Western frontier on the farm adjacent to Daniel Boone’s, “rented” out in adolescence to a succession of steamboat captains on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the young man known as “Sandy” reinvented himself as “William Wells” Brown after escaping to freedom. He lifted himself out of illiteracy and soon became an innovative, widely admired, and hugely popular speaker on antislavery circuits (both American and British) and went on to write the earliest African American works in a plethora of genres: travelogue, novel (the now canonized Clotel), printed play, and history. He also practiced medicine, ran for office, and campaigned for black uplift, temperance, and civil rights. Ezra Greenspan’s masterful work, elegantly written and rigorously researched, sets Brown’s life in the richly rendered context of his times, creating a fascinating portrait of an inventive writer who dared to challenge the racial orthodoxies and explore the racial complexities of nineteenth-century America
Year: 2014
Primary URL:
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Comany, Inc.
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 978-0-393-2409
Copy sent to NEH?: No


Editor's Choice
Date: 11/23/2014
Organization: New York Times Book Review
Abstract: Featured as Editor's Choice in Sunday book review.

Best Books of 2014, Nonfiction
Date: 12/1/2014
Organization: Kirkus Review
Abstract: N/A

'Clotel': The Life Cycle of a Great American Novel (Blog Post)
Title: 'Clotel': The Life Cycle of a Great American Novel
Author: Ezra Greenspan
Abstract: N/a
Date: 10/14/2014
Primary URL:
Blog Title: Huffington Post, 'The Blog'