If you can pull out some old British newspapers, then you’ll find that an article from 1893 proclaimed Sarah Farro as the 1st Negro Novelist for her publication called ‘True Love.’ Well, they didn’t have their facts right about her being the first, but they did well in recognizing the phenomenal kick-starter for African American literature.
Farro was born in Illinois in 1859 and her parents had moved from the South to settle in Chicago. In the census of 1880, her two sisters and her family were given the ‘Black’ status. One reason why her one and only publication had disappeared from records was that she wrote about white people.
Her novel had been published by a well-known publishing house at the time and it was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exhibition. Her work was among the work of 58 others which constituted of women only. She had even been recognized as an outstanding pioneer for her race in Chicago!
Her book had disappeared from all public records for many decades while only 3 other African American novelists were recognized from the 19th century. These were Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown, and Frank Webb.
The reason for the disappearance of this novel may be because it was published in England – where all the characters in novels were white. This isn’t quite surprising because all the literary clubs consisted of prominent white writers like Willian Makepeace Thanckeray, Charles Dickens and Oliver Wendell Holmes. There is no wonder why Farro had used her talent to illustrate white characters in her novel. Maybe if she had emulated Black characters, the story would have been quite different and wouldn’t have gotten the attention it needed.
All the African American writers who emerged at the time were found writing about societal issues about their race. This is probably the reason why her novel gained so much attention in the first place. All the writers who followed her pioneering efforts owe her gratitude. Without her publications at the time, views about how African Americans could provide a beautiful literary experience would’ve never evolved.
True Love revolves around the melodrama of domestic romance. With her work, we understood that Black Women of that time discussed read about and emulated the lives of white people. She is among the people who at the end of slavery had undergone the Great Migration, and then even lived past the Harlem Renaissance.
We owe her a lot, and we can start by celebrating her efforts by reading her novel and appreciating it for the masterpiece it truly is.
Her novel will definitely have you reevaluate your views about African American novelists of that time.