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Soulcatcher

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Short stories inspired by the history of slavery in America, by the National Book Award–winning author of Middle Passage.

Nothing has had as profound an effect on American life as slavery. For blacks and whites alike, the experience has left us with a conflicted and contradictory history. Now, famed novelist Charles Johnson, whose Middle Passage won the National Book Award, presents a dozen tales of the effects and experience of slavery, each based on historical fact, and each about those Africans who arrived on our shores in shackles. From Martha Washington’s management of her slaves, bequeathed to her at the death of the first president, to a boy chained in the bowels of a ship plying the infamous passage from Africa to the South laden with human cargo, from a lynching in Indiana to a hunter of escaped slaves searching the Boston market for his quarry, from an early Quaker meeting exploring resettlement in Africa to the day after Emancipation—the voices, terrors, and savagery of slavery come vividly and unforgettably to life.

“[These] highly detailed short historical fictions bring to life this most shameful period in our nation’s history.” —The New York Times Book Review

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Published by
Published 15 March 2001
Reads 1
EAN13 9780547545226
Language English

Legal information: rental price per page 0.0075€. This information is given for information only in accordance with current legislation.

C o n t e n t s
Title Page
Contents
Copyright
Preface
The Transmission
Confession
Poetry and Politics
A Soldier for the Crown
Martha’s Dilemma
The Plague
A Report from St. Domingue
The People Speak
Soulcatcher
A Lion at Pendleton
The Mayor’s Tale
Murderous Thoughts
About the Author
Connect with HMHCopyright © 1998 by Charles Johnson
Preface copyright © 2001 by Charles Johnson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

www.hmhco.com

These stories first appeared in Africans in America by Charles Johnson, Patricia Smith, and
the WGBH Research Team.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Johnson, Charles Richard, 1948–
Soulcatcher and other stories/Charles Johnson—1st ed.
p. cm.
“A Harvest original.”
Contents: The transmission—Confession—Poetry and politics—A soldier for the crown—
Martha’s dilemma—The plague—A report from St. Domingue—The people speak—The
soulcatcher—A lion at Pendleton—The mayor’s tale—Murderous thoughts.
ISBN 0-15-601112-3
1. Afro-Americans—Fiction 2. Historical fiction, American. I. Title. PS3560.03735 S64 2001
00-053950
813'54—dc21

eISBN 9780547545226
v2.0117P r e f a c e
IN 1969, THE YEAR the first large lecture classes in Black Studies premiered at the
Illinois college I attended, African American faculty were so scarce on campus that
black graduate students from different fields volunteered to teach these courses, with
undergraduates assisting them as leaders for small, weekly discussion groups. I was
one of the latter. Reaching back, I recall cutting most of my own classes spring term in
order to prepare for my discussion group by reading for eight hours a day John Hope
Franklin’s massive masterpiece, From Slavery to Freedom, and dozens of other texts
(by black authors) on sociology, history, and literature. In the late 1960s, these works
were no where to be found in the canon or curriculum at integrated colleges, secondary
or elementary schools. In the universe of academia, they were “dark matter,” invisible
to the eye. And, yes, I was sometimes tempted to condemn the white teachers and
professors I had had since the 1950s for not placing this history before me, but I realize
now that they had not been taught this material—they never knew what they didn’t
know, and thus had nothing to transmit to the children of color who filled their classes
when Brown v Board of Education went into effect after 1954 and who hungered for
knowledge about themselves.
What I learned as an autodidact, as an undergraduate teaching himself in those
dizzying, early days of Black Studies, was that American history on every level
imaginable—political, economic, and cultural—was simply inconceivable without the
presence of black people on this continent from the time of the seventeenth-century
colonies.
So, while I have been a voracious student, and sometimes a teacher, of black
American history and literature for over thirty years, I was (and continue to be)
astonished by the wealth of research and perception-altering revelations about this
country’s past contained in the PBS series Africans in America: America’s Journey
through Slavery and its beautiful companion book, which I had the privilege of
coauthoring with Patricia Smith and the WGBH Research Team.
However, in late 1996 when producer Orlando Bagwell approached me about writing
twelve original short stories to dramatize the companion book’s history, I was initially
hesitant. Why? At that time, I was a year away from completing my fourth novel,
Dreamer, a complex, multileveled philosophical fiction about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,
1966 Chicago campaign (and his fictitious double who appears during a riot). I had
already devoted seven years of study to this difficult and endlessly demanding project.
The thought of committing my time and energy to yet another book that involved both
scholarship and unflagging imagination made me feel weak in my knees. But, happily,
Bagwell, a producer I’ve admired since the early 1980s for his professionalism and
outstanding character, persisted. He and his team of filmmakers, who devoted a
decade to bringing Africans in America to the screen, urged me again by phone, fax,
and face-time at a Seattle restaurant to take on this unusual project, since I’d already
traversed slavery’s history in my third novel Middle Passage (a fiction that demanded
seventeen years of research on the slave trade and another six on the vast lore of the
sea). I fidgeted. I flinched, but at the end of the day how could I say no? I’d come to
know American life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries while writing my second
novel, Oxherding Tale (1982), and through numerous historical teleplays for PBS from
1977 through the ’80s. Finally, I agreed, though I had absolutely no idea exactly what
stories I would write.