"NO EARLY INDEPENDENT BLACK FILMMAKER WAS MORE IMPORTANT": FIRST EDITION OF OSCAR MICHEAUX'S HOMESTEADER, 1917—HIS "FIRST SELF-PUBLISHED NOVEL"—INSPIRATION FOR HIS FIRST FILM OF THE SAME NAME THAT LAUNCHED HIS EXTRAORDINARY CAREER
MICHEAUX, Oscar. The Homesteader. Sioux City, Iowa: Western Book Supply Company, (1917). Octavo, original gilt-stamped burgundy cloth. $1250.
First edition of Micheaux's groundbreaking novel that triggered his start as writer, director and producer in a career that defied the odds and crafted "almost single-handedly… a prototype for African American independent cinema," with seven full-page illustrations including frontispiece, in original cloth.
Micheaux, born in 1884, based this novel, whose "publication was the most singular event of his entire life," on his experience as a Black homesteader in the West (Dorsey, Introduction to Homesteader). His "first self-published novel," it displays "a striking resemblance to his own life," and expands on themes in his first two novels, Conquest (1913) and Forged Note (1915) (ANB). "When Black filmmakers George and Noble Johnson negotiated unsuccessfully with Micheaux to film Homesteader in 1919, his interest turned to making movies" (Africana, 630). Determined to film the novel himself, despite the lack of financing, equipment or a studio, and in the face of a white-dominated film industry, "he would shoot and cut it and open it in New York in less than two years." With this novel and the film it inspired, Micheaux began his lifelong "exploration into every glint and facet" of Black life, struggling "to fill the vacuum left by Hollywood" (Cripps, Slow Fade to Black, 89, 171). "No early independent Black filmmaker was more important" (Kisch and Mapp, A Separate Cinema, xiii-xvi).
"Micheaux's early life ran in striking parallel to W.E.B. Du Bois, and both men, standing on the frontier of race, looked with fine acuity into the hidden crannies of racial mores" (Cripps, 183-84). For nearly three decades Micheaux wrote, directed and produced over 30 films—almost all now lost. "Among these are Body and Soul (1924), a silent film starring Paul Robeson in his first American movie, and The Exile (1931), the first African American talkie made by a Black film company… his films make a plea for Black unity and Black independence through education and economic competition while presenting a positive image for Black audiences. Micheaux successfully fashioned almost single-handedly a popular Black cinema and a Black star system that provided a prototype for African American independent cinema." Working in both silent and sound films, he also was "one of the few Black directors to bridge this important transitional era in American cinema" (Oxford Companion to African American Literature, 494-95). Influenced by Booker T. Washington, Micheaux was intent on "moving as far as possible from mainstream cinema's jesters and servants. He wanted to give his audience something 'to further the race, not hinder it'" (Kisch and Mapp, xiii-xviii). First edition, first printing: "Copyright, 1917, by Oscar Micheaux" on copyright page containing no statement of edition or printings. With seven full-page illustrations including frontispiece from paintings by W. M. Farrow. With "He was young" plate at page 14 (instead of page 22), no priority established. Without very scarce dust jacket.
Interior fresh with trace of scattered foxing, faint soiling, minimal rubbing to bright gilt-stamped cloth. A very elusive near-fine copy.