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Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist':
 The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris

In an entertaining and thorough sociohistorical biography, Walter M. Brasch examines the life of one of the most influential and popular American writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although Joel Chandler Harris (1846?-1908) was widely praised by his contemporaries, respected as the most popular writer behind Mark Twain, and his work has been translated into more than 30 languages, he is largely unknown today. 

Brasch looks at the nature of fame, and threads innumerable social and political issues throughout this important and enlightening study of a Southern writer, whom he characterizes as "a web of contradictions,"among them his belief in segregation while also speaking out as one of the nation's more liberal voices for racial equality and human rights. The book explores Harris's four-decade newspaper career, which remained a key part of his life and character even after he achieved critical and financial success in the literary field.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in social history and contemporary social issues, journalism, literature, popular culture, folklore, linguistics, or Harris himself.

Harris's literary reproduction of American Black English "is not only remarkably accurate, but also reflective of the culture of middle Georgia during Reconstruction."Those who brand Harris and his writings as racist, says Brasch, "probably haven't read his works, and are unaware that Harris, in both countless newspaper editorials and in his fiction, was a strong voice for human rights."




Critical Acclaim

"Exhaustively researched, cogently organized, and briskly written, Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and The 'Cornfield Journalist' is a model of the transdisciplinary study. Incorporating history, literary criticism, journalism, and other fields, it adds much to our knowledge of a complex man and the complex environment in which he lived.
-
Wayne Mixon, professor of history, Augusta (Ga.) State University; Author, The  Ultimate Irrelevance of Race: Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus in Their Time and  Southern Writers and the New Southern Movement, 1865-1913


"Walter Brasch's energetic and engaging biography reconstructs the active professional life and rich sociological and historical legacy of Joel Chandler Harris as a journalist and dialect writer. Brasch does a masterful job of integrating Harris's writings, events in his life, correspondence with family, colleagues, and publishers, critics' and reviewers' responses, book sales figures, and extensive examples of his popular culture impact to demonstrate how Harris's career was an important sociological gloss on the Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, and turn-of-the-century South.

 

"Brasch portrays Harris as a complex and thoughtful journalist and writer, a liberal conservative for his day, whose extremely popular portraits of Black character and Black speech and folklore in his times have stirred up controversies but have also had a larger influence than we realize on later writers and on the media, generally.

"Incorporating an extensive array of hitherto unpublished or overlooked material on Harris's life and legacy, Brasch brings Harris backūas a major late nineteenth century journalist who pro noted racial understanding and helped an international readership appreciate the sociological, linguistic, and folkloristic legacy of the Old South become New.

 

"Among the book's strongest points are Brasch's analysis of Harris's use of Black speech and the critics' and linguists' evolving responses to his dialect and to Harris as a dialect writer; his commentary on Harris's presentations of North-South and racial reconciliation themes over several years; his analysis of the racial controversies surrounding the Uncle Remus tales; and his inventories of the literary and popular culture influences of Brer Rabbit and the Uncle Remus talesūfrom Mark Twain to Toni Morrison, from Ralph Ellison to Van Dyke Parks and Julius Lester, from community theatre productions to picture books, records, cassettes, and videos; from Coca-Cola ads to Disney's "Song of the South"and Splash Mountain. Further, the book's impressive gallery of 70 photographs is the most extensive gathering of Harris-related images ever published." -- Bruce Bickey, professor emeritus of English, Florida State University; author, Joel Chandler Haris: A Biography and Critical Study and Critical Essays on Joel Chandler Harris


"[Brasch uses] well-documented research to provide not only an in-depth study of Harris but also a glimpse into such issues as journalism during the Civil War, Reconstruction, Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit tales as a vital part of African-American folklore, the use of Black English in literature, and the story of why the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta did not choose Brer Rabbit as a mascot. . . . [Brasch's] meticulously researched biography . . . is a book well worth reading."--Linda Harris, Southern Flair


"It is biography, but it is also an analysis of black speech and dialect, a discussion of folklore, observations on race, and a survey of the cultural influences of Joel Chandler Harris's 'brer' animals. The book's charm stems from Brasch's writing style, the sketches of the animals on nearly every page, the 70 photographs, the reproductions of contracts and newspapers, the varied typography, and the reprint of Harris's 'The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story,' taken from one of the earliest editions....Recommended for journalism and southern literature collections."- Choice


"[A] carefully researched and engagingly written biography. . .Brasch masterfully weaves starnds of Harris's family history with Southern culture, plantation language, professional journalism, creative literature, and American history. . .[and] reminds us, clearly and cogently, that Harris was well ahead of his time and cultural environment."- Journal of American Folklore


"Brasch does an excellent job of showing the varied aspects of Joel Chandler Harris's life and writings."-- International Social Sciences Review


"[A] thorough look."-- Catholic News Service


"Highly readable."- Macon Magazine


"Thoroughly researched and well-written."- Sylvania (Ga.) Telephone


"Brasch's exhaustively researched and annotated biography leaved little doubt that Harris, the journalist, novelist, and folklorist, left an indelible mark on American Literature...[This is] a well-documented account....While extensively annotated [it] is readable, enjoyable, and enlightening. It is recommended reading for those interested in American folklore and/or literature [and for] linguists, journalism historians, as well as scholars researching the many aspects of the institution of slavery."- Judy H. Tucker, Jackson (Miss.) Progressive





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