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Finding Hannah Crafts: America’s First Black Woman Novelist

Price FREE – $40 USD + BF Register

Event description

“For an enslaved person, the fact that she could read and write was extraordinary. That she had escaped with a manuscript in her suitcase is astonishing.” - Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In 2002, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. shocked the literary world with “The Bondwoman’s Narrative,” a 301-page novel written—he claimed—by a formerly enslaved woman: Hannah Crafts. But who was Hannah Crafts, really? How had she learned to write, and how had her manuscript, written in her own handwriting, survived? Could it be—as skeptics claimed—a hoax?

On Thursday, May 30 at 6:30 pm, join the DC History Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to welcome Gregg Hecimovich, author of The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of the Bondwoman’s Narrative and Steven Nelson, the National Gallery of Art’s Dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. In conversation, they will explore this incredibly detailed biography and Hecimovich’s intensive research to corroborate Hannah Craft’s identity and contextualize her novel. 



The DC History Center and The People's Archive at the DC Public Library are teaming up to bring audiences high-profile history books with distinct DC stories. We’ve selected this book because of the depiction of pre-Civil War Washington both as Hannah Crafts would have experienced it and as she described it in her work of fiction: from the ongoing construction of the city’s monuments to DC’s Black churches as community spaces and as routes to freedom. This book also demonstrates incredible archival work, which we hope inspires you to visit our collections.


Registration is free, and walk-ins are welcome. Purchase a book at checkout ($40) to be picked up during the program. Books will not be sold onsite. Purchasing the book through registration supports our mission. Add a donation to show additional support!

The DC History Center and DC Public Library logos next to the cover of the book, The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of the Bondwoman's Narrative.


Gregg Hecimovich is Hutchins Family Fellow at Harvard University and professor of English at Furman University in South Carolina. He is the author of six books and edited volumes, including The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2023), selected by The Washington Post as “One of the 10 Best Books of 2023.” It was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Hecimovich received his Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University and is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and elsewhere.

Steven Nelson
is dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Nelson has published widely on the arts, architecture, and urbanism of Africa and its diasporas and on queer studies. He has held visiting appointments at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Nelson is professor emeritus of art history and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and former director of its African Studies Center. He is a member of the Kress Foundation Board of Trustees.


Please note that walk-ins are welcome and that seating is first come, first served. If you require accommodations for a disability, please email the DC History Center at with your request as possible. We are committed to making events accessible for all participants.

DC History Center programs are supported by EventsDC and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

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Refund policy

This program is free to attendees.