Barbara Chase-Riboud

Monticello, Virginia. Photo credit: Katie Nicholson, Everyday Adventures with Katie

I start off my series on woman writers with one of the strongest voices that I ever read.

Barbara Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia in 1939. She is now 80 years old. Wikipedia knows her as a sculptor, poet, and novelist. (She is highly accomplished in all three of these.)

I know her as the woman who wrote the historical fiction novel Sally Hemings in 1979.

POTUS Thomas Jefferson owned Sally Hemings. Various historians allege that Thomas Jefferson fathered Heming’s children. 

Now, scholars already wrote several non-fiction books on the topic. (For instance, Fawn Brodie wrote a Thomas Jefferson biography in the 1970’s that discussed the Jefferson-Hemings theories.) You can read these non-fiction books, and you can also spend the rest of today reading about this on the internet.  So, I won’t attempt to tackle this with one blog post.

However, when I was a kid, I didn’t have access to any non-fiction books that mentioned Sally Hemings. I didn’t have access to the internet. I heard brief mentions that “people think that Thomas Jefferson had an affair with one of his slaves.”

Then one day, when I was a young teenager, I found my Grandma Hilde’s copy of Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Riboud. A stylish African American writer appeared on the book’s jacket. I read the book.

Now, Sally Hemings IS a fiction novel. Just like any historical fiction novel. However, Sally Hemings caused me to think about Thomas Jefferson and his relationship to ALL of the men, women, and children that he enslaved.

Chase-Riboud wrote several other celebrated works. However, I specifically mention Sally Hemings here because it’s one of the first adult books that I read.

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