The New York Times has a nice story about the republication of Julia Collins' novel, The Curse of Caste: Or, The Slave Bridge, published in serial form in The Christian Recorder the wake of the Civil War. The editors, William L. Andrews of UNC and Mitch Kachun of Western Michigan, believe that it is the first novel published by an African American women. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard believes that distinction belongs to Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig, published in 1859. The debate turns, according to the article, on how we define novel. Wilson's book is an autobiographical novel, the editors of The Curse of Caste. Gates' response is that many novels are largely autobiographical. I would think the debate might also turn on how we define African American, as well. I wonder if there aren't some novels by people who self-identified as white who are part African American. It won't surprise me if subsequent research into antebellum literature brings yet more revelations.
Definitions (by self and others) of who's white or not has some important implications for antebellum legal thought. On that RJ topic I hope to have some more thoughts soon.