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Iola Leroy

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper


As the Civil War bears down on a small North Carolina town, a tight-knit community of enslaved men and women is preparing for the coming battle and the possibility of freedom. Into this ensemble cast of characters comes Iola Leroy, a young woman who grew up unaware of her African ancestry until she is lured back home under false pretenses and immediately enslaved. Amidst a backdrop of battlefield hospitals and clandestine prayer meetings, this quietly stouthearted novel is a story of community, integrity, and solidarity.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was already one of the most prominent African-American poets of the nineteenth century when—at age 67—she turned her focus to novels. Her most enduring work, Iola Leroy, was one of the first novels published by an African-American writer. Although the book was initially popular with readers, it soon fell out of print and was critically forgotten. In the 1970s, the book was rediscovered and reclaimed as a seminal contribution to African-American literature.

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