Harris, Joel Chandler

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Harris, Joel Chandler,

1848–1908, American short-story writer and humorist, b. Eatonton, Ga., considered one of the great American regionalist writers. As an apprentice to the editor of the Countryman, a newspaper published on a Southern plantation, Harris gained firsthand knowledge of black slaves and their folklore. His stories and sketches of the South were originally published in the Atlanta Constitution, with which he was associated from 1876 to 1900. Harris's first collection, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1881), brought him immediate fame. Featuring as their narrator a lovable, shrewd former slave, the Uncle Remus stories drew upon African-American folklore and humor and were written in Southern black dialect. The demand for his stories and sketches was so great that Harris followed with nine more books in a similar vein, including The Tar Baby (1904) and Uncle Remus and Br'er Rabbit (1906). In other notable works, such as Mingo and Other Sketches in Black and White (1884) and Free Joe and Other Georgian Sketches (1887), Harris portrayed with accuracy and insight the aristocrats and poor whites of Georgia.


See his life and letters (ed. by J. C. Harris, 1918); biographies by P. M. Cousins (1968) and R. B. Bickley, Jr. (1987); study by R. B. Bickley, Jr. (1981).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

Harris, Joel Chandler

(1848–1908) writer; born near Eatonville, Ga. As a boy he worked as a printer's assistant (1860–62) on a newspaper published by Joseph Addison Turner, who also encouraged Harris to read and write; Turner owned a plantation and Harris became acquainted with the African-American slaves and their speech, stories, and customs. He then became a journalist for newspapers in Macon and Savannah, Ga., and in New Orleans before settling in Atlanta to work for the Atlanta Constitution (1876–1900), which carried the first of his "Uncle Remus Stories," "The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox" in 1879. Its popularity led to a long series of tales, published over the next quarter century in various collections, starting with Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1880). The tales feature Uncle Remus, an African-American and former slave who tells the tales to the son of the family he now serves; many of the stories feature animals such as Brer (Brother) Rabbit and Brer Fox, and draw on the folklore of African-Americans as well as reproduce their speech, so that the tales are regarded as providing at least glimpses of authentic folklore. Harris also wrote other stories and novels about life in the South; his On the Wing of Occasions (1900) is a collection of stories featuring Billy Sanders, the Sage of Shady Dale, a character who expresses the views of average Georgians of the day.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.