Author spotlight: Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins

Pauline HopkinsPauline Hopkins is someone we should know. Granted, the body of her work was not science fiction nor fantasy. Her legacy to us is one title, Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self, first published as a serial novel in the November 1902-January 1903 issues of The Colored American Magazine. Born in Maine in 1959, Pauline eventually became the editor-in-chief of that same magazine, as well as being a shareholder on the board. She was replaced in 1904 by John C. Freund and Booker T. Washington, in what is described as a “hostile takeover”.

We claim her novel, Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self, as proto-science fiction, as “the first Lost Race novel by an African-American author”. In it we meet Reuel Briggs, whose “place in the world would soon be filled; no vacuum remained empty; the eternal movement of all things onward closed up the gaps, and the wail of the newly-born augmented the great army of mortals pressing the vitals of mother Earth with hurrying tread. So he had tormented himself for months, but the courage was yet wanting for strength to rend the veil.”

“Oh Poverty, Ostracism! have I not drained the bitter cup to the dregs!” he later says, and then he goes on to have an adventure, and Pauline (after far too many years in obscurity) goes on to be one of the many mothers of science fiction.

But let’s stop for a moment and reflect on this “hostile takeover”, because that is also relevant to our work here. In this, I think we should let Pauline speak for herself:

As I am not a woman who attracts the attention of the opposite sex in any way, Mr. Freund’s philanthropy with regard to myself puzzled me, but knowing that he was aware of my burdens at home, I thought that he was trying to help me in his way. I was so dense that I did not for a moment suspect that I was being politely bribed to give up my race work and principles and adopt the plans of the South for the domination of the Blacks.

[Taken from Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution, Lois Brown, 2008]

If you read this Wikipedia article on The Colored American Magazine, you will find that “Hopkins sensed that Freund had conspired with Booker T. Washington to replace her as editor — to quell her outspokenness on racial matters, which in that era, was a prevailing taboo in the minds of many whites.” The problem appears to be that Pauline wanted to look back at African-American history, to encompass all that black Americans had been, as well as to look forward to all they could be. Freund, perhaps, wanted to promote what he, and his white audience, believed black Americans should be.

Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self, was Pauline’s last novel, and according to her bibliography it seems that her work tapered off there, although she did go on to write several articles for The Voice of the Negro and New Era Magazine, which she edited in 1916 with Walter Wallace. New Era Magazine survived for two issues. Pauline died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1930.