Charles W. Chesnutt (June 20, 1858 - November 15, 1932) was the son of Andrew J. and Maria (Sampson) Chesnutt. Both his parents were natives of North Carolina. He attended the public schools of Cleveland until his father, after serving four years in the Union Army, returned to the South. In North Carolina, Charles Chesnutt attended the Public schools, and began to teach at a very early age, first as a pupil-teacher, then successively, in primary and grammar schools at various points in North and South Carolina. At the age of nineteen he was appointed teacher in the State Colored Normal School at Fayetteville, N. C., and upon the death of the principal several years later was chosen to fill his place, in which he served acceptably for three years At the age of twenty-five he removed to New York City.
After a brief sojourn in New York he resigned and went to Cleveland, Ohio, where he became a stenographer in the accounting department of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Co. A year and a half later he transferred to the legal department, where he remained for two years, during which time he studied law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1887. He never practiced his profession of the law very actively.
Mr. Chesnutt's first story was written at fourteen and was published in a North Carolina newspaper. It was intended to show the evil effects upon the youthful mind of reading dime novels. Beginning in 1884 he contributed many stories and articles to the periodical press. His best short story, "The Wife of His Youth," appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, in 1898, since which he has published "The Conjure Woman," (1899), a volume of dialect stories of plantation life in North Carolina, most of which had appeared in the Atlantic; "The Wife of His Youth" and "Other Stories of the Color Line" (1899); "The House Behind the Cedars" (1900); "The Marrow of Tradition" (1901); and "The Colonel's Dream" (1905) all of these books deal with race problem motives. The Christian Register, Boston, says: They are like none of the other Negro stories with which we are familiar, and take an exceptionally high place both as a study of race characteristics and for genuine dramatic interest. Two of his books were adapted as silent films in 1926 and 1927 by the African-American director and producer Oscar Micheaux.