WU professor solves literary mystery after decades of research

English professor Gregg Hecimovich has proven that if you work diligently for something you can obtain it.

Dr. Hecimovich was featured most recently in the New York Times, in the Charlotte Observer, and in Entertainment Weekly after successfully completing  his search for the woman who wrote “The Bondswoman’s Narrative.”

A television clip that he was also featured in was from “The Last Word” on MSNBC, which can be viewed online.

Hecimovich was determined  to find the name of “The Bondwoman’s Narrative” and did just that. With thorough research and planning he was able to put the pieces together and locate her name.

This literary mystery puts everything into perspective because although the author is no longer here physically, she can now get her proper respect and recognition (within American literature) for her hard work as the first black female novelist in the 19th century.

It took Hecimovich ten years to identify Hannah Bond as the writer of her own novel.

“Hannah was courageous, clever, wise and a person who knew how to code-switch and work against the oppressive system that failed to recognize her gifts,” Hecimovich said.

“The Bondwoman’s Narrative” suggests how a house slave was able to retain bits of knowledge by listening to and hearing compelling readings such as “Bleak House” and “Jane Eyre.” She tells the story of her journey in her novel.

Hecimovich is currently working on a book titled, “The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of The Bondwoman’s Narrative.”

Curiosity and a love of literature and history enticed Hecimovich to search and seek her actual name.

Hecimovich also believes Bond told her story brilliantly in a literary autobiography.

“My work helps explain the background behind that autobiographical novel – and in doing so lights up a dark corner of American history,” Hecimovich said.

“It is a great novel and the mystery behind the authorship was too enticing to pass up as a researcher,” Hecimovich said.

Hecimovich says nothing changes for him when it comes to his students.

“I love bringing my students into my research projects – whether that is parlor games and riddles in the 19th century (my first book) or an autobiographical novel by a female, fugitive slave,” said Hecimovich.

He also shared his long term goals.

“I’d like to inspire as many students as possible and to collaborate and assist my fellow scholars with their own discoveries,” he said.

Hecimovich was able to stay dedicated to the search because it was fun to do.

“Research and discovery are up there with love and family, and perhaps running, as my very favorite parts of life,” Hecimovich said.

Hecimovich is the chair of the English department at Winthrop. He is also the author of four books. Hecimovich says he will be co-writing a new introduction with Henry Louis Gates Jr. for “The Bondwoman’s Narrative” that will be published this February.

When Hecimovich heard of Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates’ comment, “Words cannot express how meaningful this is to African-American literary studies. It revolutionizes our understanding of the canon of black women’s literature,” Hecimovich said he was in awe. “Gates helped create the field of African-American literature, and he has become a good friend.  The truth about his comment is that Gates has already done the things he is attributing to my research.  My work is just a drop in the bucket of his more meaningful contributions,” Hecimovich said.

Hecimovich received feedback after his research went national.

“The best thing I received in the days after the Times’ piece was the flood of emails from high school and middle school teachers who said they shared the story of my search with their students and their classes were excited by the charm of discovery,” Hecimovich said.  “My colleagues in the Department of English inspire me every day. We have nationally recognized experts in all kinds of fields teaching English to Winthrop students.  You’d be hard pressed to find another group of faculty as devoted to students as we are in English. We have great things going on here on the second floor of Bancroft. Students need to check us out!” Hecimovich said.

English professor Casey Cothran says that she is “proud of her colleague.”

“It’s so good to see a colleague’s work appreciated not only by other scholars but by the public. I’m also so moved that Dr. Hecimovich has found this lost female artist. I am so glad her work can be published under her true name, even though it has been a century since her death,” Cothran said.

Hecimovich will be doing a program along with former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in New York City this spring for the New York Historical Society.

Currently Hecimovich is working up residency applications for appointments at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University and The National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park.


Special To The Johnsonian

"Special to the Johnsonian" is usually reserved for freelance writers around Winthrop's campus.

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