I found this month’s Kickass Woman in the pages of Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston. Pauline Hopkins was an Black author whose work broke barriers and called readers to action.

Hopkins was born in Massachusetts in 1859. At sixteen, she began a career as a singer. She was known as “Boston’s favorite colored soprano.” She was also an actress and wrote plays. Her play Slave’s Escape, which later became Peculiar Sam; or The Underground Railroad, A Musical Drama in Four Acts is considered to be the first drama written by a Black woman in America.

black and white photo of a young Pauline Hopkins

Hopkins was a sought-after public speaker. Vocal about the importance of equal rights for Black Americans, including Black women, she was unafraid to speak publicly against lynching, sexual violence, and the convict lease system in public appearances as well as in her writing. She wrote her first novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South and published it in 1900.

In 1902, Hopkins became the editor of Colored American Magazine. Until 1910, when W. E. B. Du Bois launched The Crisis (official publication of the NAACP), Colored American Magazine was the most widely circulated African American magazine. It published fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on a message of advocacy and activism.

Hopkins published three novels in serialized form in the magazine. Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice (1901) was the first detective story by an African American author (known to us today). In 1902 she serialized Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest. Her novel Of One Blood; or, the Hidden Self was serialized in 1903. All of her books challenged ideas about racial identity and shared the experiences of Black people in America while also entertaining readers.

Black and white photo of Pauline Hopkins in middle age, facing camera and wearing an enormous black hat the script below reads yours for humanity Pauline E Hopkins

After she left the magazine, Hopkins took on work as a stenographer and stopped writing. She died at the age of 71. Today she is being newly appreciated by academic researches for her pioneering work as an activist, and editor, and an author.

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