Joel Chandler Harris

Joel Chandler Harris

Harris, Joel Chandler, 1848-1908, American short-story writer and humorist, b. Eatonton, Ga., considered one of the greatest American regionalist writers. As an apprentice to the editor of the Countryman, a newspaper published on a Southern plantation, Harris gained firsthand knowledge of black slaves and their folklore. His stories and sketches of the South were originally published in the Atlanta Constitution, with which he was associated from 1876 to 1900. Harris's first collection, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1881), brought him immediate fame. Featuring as their narrator a lovable, shrewd former slave, the Uncle Remus stories drew upon African-American folklore and humor and captured the authentic life, character, and dialect of Southern blacks. The demand for his stories and sketches was so great that Harris followed with nine more books in a similar vein, including The Tar Baby (1904) and Uncle Remus and Br'er Rabbit (1906). In other notable works, such as Mingo and Other Sketches in Black and White (1884) and Free Joe and Other Georgian Sketches (1887), Harris portrayed with accuracy and insight the aristocrats and poor whites of Georgia.

See his life and letters (ed. by J. C. Harris, 1918); biographies by P. M. Cousins (1968) and R. B. Bickley, Jr. (1987); study by R. B. Bickley, Jr. (1981).

Joel Chandler Harris (December 9,1848July 3, 1908) was an American journalist born in Eatonton, Georgia who wrote the Uncle Remus stories. His stories gained popular success and included Uncle Remus; His Songs and His Sayings. The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation. (1880), Nights with Uncle Remus (1881 & 1882), Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892), and Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1905).

The stories, based on the African-American oral storytelling tradition, were revolutionary in their use of dialect. They featured a trickster hero called Br'er Rabbit ("Brother" Rabbit), who used his wits against adversity, though his efforts did not always succeed. Br'er Rabbit is a direct interpretation of Yoruba tales of Hare, though some others posit Native American influences as well.

Harris began publishing his stories in the Atlanta Constitution in 1879 at a time of great interest in the South and in freedmen. They became popular among both black and white readers in the North and South, not least because they presented an idealized view of race relations soon after the Civil War.

Paul Reuben wrote, “Joel Chandler Harris was a white man, born of poor parents, who at thirteen left home and became an apprentice to Joseph Addison Turner, a newspaper publisher and plantation owner. It is at this plantation, Turnwold, that Harris first heard the black folktales that were to make him famous.” In fact Harris went to work for Turner when he was sixteen, as he was born in 1845. It was an influential apprenticeship.

In Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson described Harris as a “painfully shy newsman” who had a pronounced stammer and was very self-conscious about his illegitimate birth.

The contemporary critic H. L. Mencken held a less than favorable view of Harris. He wrote: "Once upon a time a Georgian printed a couple of books that attracted notice, but immediately it turned out that he was little more than an amanuensis for the local blacks--that his works were really the products, not of white Georgia, but of black Georgia. Writing afterward as a white man, he swiftly subsided into the fifth rank.

Late 20th century Black American writers looked at Harris from different points of view. Alice Walker accused Harris of "stealing a good part of my heritage" in a searing essay called "Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine". Toni Morrison wrote a novel called "Tar Baby" based on the folktale recorded by Harris. In interviews, she claimed she learned the story from her family and owed no debt to Harris. Black folklorist Julius Lester holds a somewhat kinder view of Harris. He sees the Uncle Remus stories as important records of black folklore. He has rewritten many of the Harris stories in an effort to elevate the subversive elements over the racist ones.

Apart from Uncle Remus, Harris wrote several other collections of stories depicting rural life in Georgia including Free Joe and the Rest of the World.

In 1946, the Walt Disney Company produced a film based on Harris's work, called Song of the South. While critically and commercially successful during its original release and re-releases, the company has not released it on home video.

The Wren's Nest, Harris' home in Atlanta, Georgia from 1881 until his death in 1908, is maintained as a National Historic Landmark.

Marriage and family

Harris married Mary Esther LaRose.


External links

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