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Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman

(b. 1870)


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(1870–?), poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist of the post-Reconstruction era.

Born on 19 February 1870 in Mound City, Illinois, Katherine Tillman began writing as a child. At the age of eighteen she published her first poem, “Memory,” in the Christian Recorder. Tillman attended the State University of Louisville in Kentucky and Wilberforce University in Ohio. After her marriage to the Reverend G. M. Tillman, she continued writing for the publications of the AME Church, especially the A.M.E. Church Review, which serialized her two novellas–Beryl Weston's Ambition: The Story of an Afro-American Girl's Life (1893) and Clancy Street (1898–1899). The Review also published her essays on famous African American women, poetry, Aleksandr Pushkin, and Alexandre Dumas. The A.M.E. Book Concern published Recitations (1902), a collection of verse, and three dramas–Aunt Betsy's Thanksgiving (n.d.), Thirty Years of Freedom (1902), and Fifty Years of Freedom, or From Cabin to Congress (1910).

Tillman's career demonstrates that African American women were very much a part of black literary culture during the post-Reconstruction era (1877–1915). Women writers like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Amelia E. Johnson, and Emma Dunham Kelley defined roles for black women not only as wives and mothers but also as professionals and community leaders. In doing so these writers used literature to appropriate, critique, and revise the dominant conventions of race, gender, and class. Even more important, African American women writers, like their male counterparts, employed literature to explore the possibilities of self-definition and U.S. citizenship at a time when such prerogatives invited racist violence.

Claudia Tate, introduction to The Works of Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman, 1991.Claudia Tate, Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's Text at the Turn of the Century, 1992.

Claudia Tate

Subjects: Literature.


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