Chesnutt, Charles Waddell
- Lisa Clayton Robinson
Charles W. Chesnutt was one of the first African American writers to become a mainstream success by writing fiction that realistically portrayed the complexities of African American life. Chesnutt was unusually honest about the problems inherent in that experience, and his stories remain valuable for their descriptions of nineteenth-century black culture and attitudes.
Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were both mixed-race free blacks who had emigrated to Ohio but moved back south to Fayetteville, North Carolina, shortly after his birth. Chesnutt grew up during Reconstruction in relative privilege for an African American, and although he had a reputation for being largely self-taught, he also attended a school founded by the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency created to aid the former slaves after the American Civil War (1861–1865 After working as a schoolteacher and then as a principal in Southern schools during his late teens ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.