Yellin, Jean Fagan 1930–

views updated

Yellin, Jean Fagan 1930–

PERSONAL: Born September 19, 1930, in Lansing, MI; daughter of Peter (an editor) and Sarah (an editor; maiden name, Robinson) Fagan; married Edward Yellin (a biomedical engineer), December 17, 1948; children: Peter, Lisa, Michael. Education: Attended Michigan State University and University of Michigan; Roosevelt University, B.A., 1951; University of Illinois, M.A., 1963, Ph.D.,1969.

ADDRESSES: Home—38 Lakeside Dr., New Rochelle, NY 10801. Office—Department of English, Pace University, 1 Pace Plaza, New York, NY 10038. E-mail[email protected]; [email protected].

CAREER: Pace University, New York, NY, assistant professor, 1968–74, associate professor of English, beginning 1974; currently professor emeritus.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, College Language Association, American Studies Association, Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, Melville Society, Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature, Northeast Modern Language Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: American Association of University Women fellowship; Pace University scholarly research awards; National Endowment for the Humanities younger humanist fellowship and summer fellowship; National Humanities Institute fellowship; National Collection of Fine Arts-Smithsonian fellowship; W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research fellowship; Ethnic Scholar of the Year award; scholar-in-residence, Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Pulitzer Prize nomination; Frederick Douglass Book Prize, 2004; D.H.L., Pace University, 2005.



The Intricate Knot: Black Figures in American Literature, 1776–1863, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1972.

(Editor) Criticisms of American Culture: A Reader, Pace and Pace (New York, NY), 1982.

(Editor) Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

Women & Sisters: The Antislavery Feminists in American Culture, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1989.

(Compiler, with Cynthia D. Bond) The Pen Is Ours: A Listing of Writings by and about African-American Women before 1910 with Secondary Bibliography to the Present, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

(Editor, with John C. Van Horne) The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1994.

Harriet Jacobs: A Life, Civitas/Basic Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of Afro-American Women Writers, 1800–1910, G.K. Hall. Author of introduction, Clotel, by William W. Brown, Arno (New York, NY), 1969. Contributor to Black Women's Studies, coedited by Gloria T. Hull, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 1979. Contributor of articles and reviews to American Quarterly, CLA Journal, Massachusetts Review, Criticism, and Freedomways.

SIDELIGHTS: Jean Fagan Yellin has spent many years researching the life of Harriet Jacobs, a slave in the American South. Jacobs was born into slavery, but she learned to read as a child with the help of her first mistress. When that kindly woman died, Harriet became the property of a Dr. James Norcom. As she approached womanhood, she did what she could to deflect the unwanted sexual attentions from this owner; she even entered into a romantic liaison with a neighbor in the hopes of turning her owner away. She was just fifteen years old at the time. Her ploy was not successful, though, so Harriet then resorted to hiding out in a cubbyhole at her grandmother's house. For nearly seven years, she spent most of her time in a room that was only nine feet long and three feet high. In 1842, she escaped to the North, where she worked as a domestic, taught at a school for poor black children, and worked with refugees from the Civil War. Her memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, published in 1861, became a classic of slave narrative literature. Yet, for many years, there was doubt that Jacobs had really written the book herself. Yellin dedicated herself to authenticating the narrative, and edited a reissue of the book.

Yellin added to Jacob's own story with the biography Harriet Jacobs: A Life. She added details and background to the well-known story of Jacob's life, and continued it beyond where Jacob's own narrative ended. "Yellin offers moving insights into Jacob's feel-ings at crucial junctures," reported Jennifer Fleischner in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. "Overall, Yellin triumphs in recovering the person behind the best-known woman's slave narrative in American literature." A Kirkus Reviews writer called the book a "graceful, honorable portrait, extensively documented and annotated," and concluded: "Yellin's fine reconstruction of an impressive personality should firmly embed Jacobs in American cultural history."



Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 1993, Liz McMillen, "A Slave Girl's Authentic Life," p. A8.

College English, February, 1990, Maryemma Graham, S.B. Dietzel, and R.W. Bailey, review of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, p. 194.

Journal of Negro History, spring, 2001, review of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, p. 192.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2003, review of Harriet Jacobs: A Life, p. 1356.

Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, January, 2005, Jennifer Fleischner, review of Harriet Jacobs, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, December 1, 2003, review of Harriet Jacobs, p. 52.

Reviews in American History, September, 1993, Jerome Nadelhaft, review of Women and Sisters: The Antislavery Feminists in American Culture, p. 407.

Time, February 9, 2004, Lev Grossman, review of Harriet Jacobs, p. 75.

Women's Review of Books, December, 2004, Joyce Moody, review of Harriet Jacobs, p. 4.


Jean Fagan Yellin's Home Page, (November 11, 2005).