A Literary Life of Sutton E. Griggs: The Man on the Firing Line

ISBN : 9780192856319

John Cullen Gruesser
256 ページ
156 x 234 mm

Writing, publishing, and marketing five politically engaged novels that appeared between 1899 and 1908, Sutton E. Griggs (1872-1933) was among the most prolific African American authors at the turn of the twentieth century. In contrast to his Northern contemporaries Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles Chesnutt, Griggs, as W. E. B. Du Bois remarked, "spoke primarily to the Negro race," using his own Nashville-based publishing company to produce four of his novels. Griggs pastored Baptist churches in three Southern states and played a leading role in the influential but understudied National Baptist Convention. Until recently, little was known about the personal and professional life of this religious and community leader. Thus, critics could only contextualize his literary texts to a limited degree and were forced to speculate about how he published them. This literary biography, the first written about the author, draws extensively on primary sources and late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century periodicals, local and national, African American and white. A very different Sutton Griggs emerges from these materials-a dynamic figure who devoted himself to literature for a longer period and to a more profound extent than has ever been previously imagined but also someone who frequently found himself embroiled in controversy because of what he said in his writings and the means he used to publish them. The book challenges currently held notions about the audience for, and the content, production, and dissemination of politically engaged US black fiction, altering the perception of the African American literature and print culture of the period.


Introduction: Sutton E. Griggs: Orator, Author, Activist, Elder, and Ancestor
1 The Early Years: A Family History Recovered, a Juneteenth Birth, and a Baptist Upbringing
2 Engaging in Debate and Turning to Fiction to Make His People's Case: Imperium in Imperio
3 Championing Black Labor and Fighting for the Franchise: Overshadowed and Unfettered
4 Risking All in an Attempt to Become a National Author and Publisher: The Hindered Hand
5 Transitioning away from the Novel: Pointing the Way


John Cullen Gruesser is Senior Research Scholar at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and a visiting fellow at the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A & M University. Prior to this, he taught at Kean University in New Jersey where he coordinated the M.A. in Liberal Studies program. He has been the president of the Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins Society, the New Jersey College English Association, and the Poe Studies Association, which named him an Honorary Lifetime Member in 2020.