Annette Gordon-Reed, history professor at Rutgers University in Newark, wins National Book Award

Rutgers University, Newark History Professor Annette Gordon-Reed has won the 2008 National Book Award for non-fiction for her landmark history of an American slave family, The Hemingses of Monticello.  The National Book Foundation announced the award at its annual ceremony in New York City on Nov. 19.
The Hemingses of Monticello is “at once a painstaking history of slavery, an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives—grand and humble—that ‘our peculiar institution’ conjoined,” according to the National Book Award citation. “This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.” The book was published in September 2008 by W.W. Norton.

In addition to her post at Rutgers University, Newark, Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School.  The legal scholar and historian is also the author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, editor of Race On Trial: Law and Justice in American History, and coauthor with Vernon Jordan of Vernon Can Read: A Memoir. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.

Although Sally Hemings is best known for her intimate relationship with Thomas Jefferson, and as the mother of seven of his children, The Hemingses of Monticello, says Gordon-Reed, is about far more than a relationship between the Hemings family and Jefferson. In her words, it is “a window into the world of slavery, an illumination of our past, a past that brought us to where we are today.” Gordon-Reed has said she wants readers to see beyond Sally Hemings the slave to Sally Hemings the person, and she wants the Hemingses’ family recollections about their mother and Jefferson to be evaluated as carefully as those of the other Jefferson children, not merely dismissed out-of-hand simply because they were the words of former slaves.

Gordon-Reed is currently at work on a second volume of history of the Hemings family, extending the story to the 20th century descendants who have played a vigorous role in gaining official recognition as relatives of Thomas Jefferson.

Additional links:

Rutgers FOCUS newsletter article, Oct. 22,2008
Rutgers historian’s new book offers window into the world of slavery

Book review in The New York Review of Books, Oct. 9, 2008

Book review in The New Yorker, Sept. 22, 2008