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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor fills historical gap with new book on William Wells Brown

SMU professor fills historical gap with new book on William Wells Brown

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SMU English Professor Ezra Greenspan published his latest book “William Wells Brown: An African American Life” in October 2014. The book, since its release, has been catching attention and is even up for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

“It’s a book that clearly is going to reach the general public,” Greenspan said.

William Wells Brown, born a slave in Kentucky, was known as an abolitionist lecturer, historian, novelist, and playwright. A contemporary of Frederick Douglas, Brown is often overshadowed by Douglas, despite his impressive life. Brown wrote the first novel written by an African American,“The Cotel,” which was inspired by the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. “The Cotel” is a great American novel of the 19th century, Greenspan says.

Little was written about Brown until William Edward Farrison’s 1969 biography “William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer.” Greenspan has since filled the gap and as “The Texas Observer” said in October, rescued Brown from obscurity.

Greenspan received his doctorate from Brown University. He has been teaching at SMU since 2003 and is the former chair of the English Department. He has been married for 36 years. He and his wife have three children.

Greenspan is an educator, historian, lecturer, and he loves every aspect of his profession. When he began his career he desired to teach and share his love of literature with students. Now, he says he is more and more drawn to writing and research.

As a writer and historian, he intensely works on his projects. He worked on his most recent book for five years. He has to travel to do his research, searching through archives, to get the most detailed information possible about his subject. When he works on his projects, he often accepts fellowships, taking semesters off of teaching.

“The kind of books I write involve deep research,” Greenspan said.

The book is up for a National Book Critics Circle Award, was reviewed in “The New York Times,” and “The Texas Observer,” and Greenspan is thrilled with the response.

“The public is speaking through media,” Greenspan said. “That’s pretty unusual for an academic.”

Greenspan’s interest in William Wells Brown began years ago when he read many of Brown’s books, and then many more, and realized Brown’s life was largely untold. Greenspan wanted to write a biography that would reach a large American audience. He didn’t want it to be solely an academic book, although it is academic, he says.

His other published works include both ones he has written and edited: “William Wells Brown: A Reader,” “George Plamer Putnam,” “Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’” “Walt Whitman and the American Reader,” and “William Wells Brown: Clotel and Other Works.”

Greenspan already has another project in mind, though he wouldn’t say what. He plans to continue teaching, writing, and researching.

 

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