In conversation with Nell Irvin Painter
Barbara Chase-Riboud’s watershed 1979 novel Sally Hemings told a fictionalized story based on the true account of the life of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman with whom Thomas Jefferson had children. It was the winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for best novel by an woman writer in the United States and through DNA evidence, the novel’s premise about Heming and Jefferson’s relationship has since been proven true. Chase-Riboud’s other novels include Echo of Lions, The President’s Daughter, and Hottentot Venus. She is also a celebrated poet and widely exhibited sculptor and visual artist. In the spirit of Sally Hemings, her new novel breathes life into the previously enigmatic Hannah Elias, one of early 1900s America’s richest black women, and the murder that precipitated her rapid downfall.
Historian Nell Irvin Painter’s books include Sojourner Truth, Creating Black Americans, and the bestseller The History of White People. The Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University, Painter directed that institution’s Program in African American Studies from 1997 to 2000. She has also published numerous essays, reviews, and articles, and is the author of the memoir Old in Art School.