Pauline Hopkins, author and playwright, used fiction to explore justice

Pauline Hopkins was featured in “The Colored American magazine”, published in the early 1900s.

This Black History Month, the Globe salutes black people in Massachusetts who have made a difference.

In the preface to her first novel, published in 1900, Pauline Hopkins wrote about the importance of telling one’s own story.

“No one will do it for us,” she wrote. “We must ourselves develop the men and women who faithfully portray the innermost thoughts and feelings of the Negro with all the fire and romance that lies dormant in our history.”

Hopkins, an author and playwright who lived in Cambridge, explored themes of race in society through romance and horror. His first book, “Contending Forces: An Illustrative Romance of Negro Life North and South,” followed a family after their patriarch announced he would free the people he had enslaved. He is assassinated, his sons kidnapped and his white, mixed-race wife dies by suicide. A son escapes to New England, where the book follows the rest of his life.

Parts of the book delve into graphic and precise depictions of violence and discrimination. Hopkins also used his first novel to challenge stereotypes and shine a light on the hard work of black people on the rise at the turn of the century.

Hopkins, born in Portland, Maine, in 1859, earned her living through shorthand. She was also a magazine editor and playwright. His first play, a musical called “Slaves’ Escape”; or, The Underground Railroad,” was produced when she was 20.

She touched on mysteries with the short story “Talma Gordon,” about a woman accused of killing her father; and tackled fantasy in “Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self,” in which a black medical student is suddenly proclaimed king of a city under a pyramid in Ethiopia. She also wrote political pamphlets and lectures, remaining active throughout her life.

Hopkins died in 1930 after a fire at her Cambridge home.

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at [email protected] or 617-929-2043.

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