Joel Chandler Harris

Joel Chandler Harris

Nights with Uncle Remus, Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900.

Joel Chandler Harris gained international prominence for his volumes of Uncle Remus folktales. In 1862, Harris was hired at age sixteen to lay typeface on the printing press of Joseph Turner, the owner of 1,000-acre Turnwold Plantation in Eatonton. Harris remembered listening to traditional African stories at Turnwold as told by enslaved workers, called Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy. These persons became models for Harris’ characters Uncle Remus, Aunt Tempy, and other figures in the tales Harris began adapting and writing a decade later.

Joel Chandler Harris on the porch of his Atlanta home, the Wren’s Nest, 1905.

In September 1876, the Atlanta Constitution hired Harris whose stories they had already been reprinting; he later served as associate editor of the newspaper. In 1880, Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folklore of the Old Plantation was published. Within four months it sold 10,000 copies and was quickly reprinted. Harris eventually adapted 185 African folklore tales.

Today, folklorists praise his work in popularizing and preserving black storytelling traditions. Harris’ work, however, remains controversial due to his use of Negro dialect, racist stereotypes, and the stories’ setting on an Old South plantation.

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