David Levering Lewis’s two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize, is the definitive work on the life and thought of a complex American intellectual. In this lecture from the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar, Lewis examines Du Bois’s largely-forgotten work as a writer of historical fiction, whose journey “beyond the borders of social science certitude” was the result of a “poetic temperament combined with an intellectual’s dissatisfaction about the limits of the historically knowable.” Lewis discusses Du Bois’s early historical novels, The Quest of the Silver Fleece and Dark Princess; as well as the later Black Flame Trilogy (The Ordeal of Mansart, Mansart Builds a School, and Worlds of Color). In a brief question and answer session, Lewis comments on Du Bois’s persecution at the hands of the U.S. government during the 1950s, his reputation as a “ladies’ man,” and his early life and education in Great Barrington, MA.
From KWLS 2009: Historical Fiction and the Search for Truth