Illuminating Our Past

In what the Washington Post labeled a “literary Triple Crown,” Rutgers history professor Annette Gordon-Reed has won three prestigious awards for her landmark work of history, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.

Gordon-Reed won the National Book Award for nonfiction in the fall of 2008, the Pulitzer Prize in history in April, and the George Washington Book Prize in May. She was recently named Rutgers Board of Governors Professor of History and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her achievements and promise for continued success.

“This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.” — National Book Award citation

“Once again Annette Gordon-Reed has brought honor and distinction to Rutgers through her significant contribution to American history,” said Rutgers University president Richard L. McCormick after Gordon-Reed won the George Washington Book Prize. “I join the entire Rutgers community in congratulating her; The Hemingses of Monticello is a groundbreaking work from a truly original and supremely gifted scholar and writer.”

The work focuses on the Hemings family, beginning with Sally’s mother and ending with Jefferson’s death. The Hemingses of Monticello (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008) was Gordon-Reed’s second examination of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, which she first detailed in her 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (University of Virginia Press, 1997).

The book is “at once a painstaking history of slavery, an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives—grand and humble—that ‘our peculiar institution’ conjoined,” according to the National Book Award citation. “This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.”

Although Sally Hemings is best known for her intimate relationship with Thomas Jefferson, and as the mother of seven of his children, The Hemingses of Monticello, says Gordon-Reed, is about far more than a relationship between the Hemings family and Jefferson. In her words, it is “a window into the world of slavery, an illumination of our past, a past that brought us to where we are today.”