The Conjure Woman and Other Tales is really less a simple anthology of short stories than it is a novel in the form of a collection of loosely connected short stories. Charles Waddell Chesnutt is considered to be the singular greatest writer of what were known as “dialect stories.” The goal of Chetnutt and his dialect stories was essentially to obliterate from the consciousness of white America the view of slave life constructed in their minds from writers like Joel “Uncle Remus) Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page.
The white supremacist mythologizing of what plantation was like for the slaves that the stories of those writers and others like them engendered within the white community by virtue of their extraordinary success did as much to harm the contemporary African-American community of the time as the Jim Crow laws and segregation. In fact, the stories that Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman tried to address were essentially examples of literary segregation by separating myth from the truth and presenting the myth as fact.
The Conjure Woman and Other Tales was published in 1899 and belongs within the category of historical realism within the historical fiction genre. Beginning with the story “The Goophered Grapevine” and ending with “Hot Foot Hannibal” these stories present a world to the white community of heartbreak, tragedy, ambition, assimilation and a multitude of other sociological issues sorely missing from the mythological view of the happy little slaves they were used to.
That first story, “The Goophered Grapevine” was initially published in The Atlantic Monthly; a very popular magazine with a substantial subscription based among white America. Those stories brought Chesnutt the kind of attention that a great many other African-Americans writers sorely lacked and could have used. Although Chesnutt would go on to write three more highly regarded—and more traditionally structured—novels, a great may scholars, academics, and critics consider The Conjure Woman and other Stories to be his greatest work.