Iola Leroy was for some time cited as the first novel by an African-American author. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s 1982 discovery of Harriet Wilson's Our Nig (1859) displaced it from that spot. Later, William Wells Brown's 1853 novel Clotel, or the President's Daughter, although first published in England where he was living at the time, came to be viewed as the first novel by an African-American author.
Harper's novel remains important as one of the earliest novels written by an African American and as a fictional work dealing with complex issues of race, class, and politics in the United States. Recent scholarship suggests that Harper's novel provides a sophisticated understanding of citizenship, gender, and community, particularly the way that African Americans developed hybrid forms of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft before, during, and after slavery.
The African American journalist Ida B. Wells took up the pen name "Iola" when she first started writing articles about racism in the South.