Nancy Koester holds a Ph.D. in Church History from Luther Seminary and currently lives in St. Paul, MN. This interview is based on her new book, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life (Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, January 2014).
JF: What led you to write Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life?
NK: I’ve always been fascinated by the anti-slavery movement, especially the contributions of women. In a conversation with an editor, I learned that Eerdmans Publishing Co. wanted a volume on Harriet Beecher Stowe for their “Library of Religious Biography.” They wanted a book that would work more deeply with Stowe’s religious faith than some of the existing biographies. I followed up with a will!
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life?
Stowe’s fight against slavery and her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, expressed the moral vision of New England Calvinism: a society reflecting the love of God. But after she was a famous author, the death of her unconverted son made her question her inherited Calvinism, leading her on a quest through spiritualism to the Communion of Saints.
JF: Why do we need to read Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life?
NK: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
changed history by turning public opinion against slavery. To know Stowe’s life story is to enter into defining conflict of our country, and also to explore some fascinating byways of 19th century life. Readers have told me that as the story unfolds, Harriet becomes real to them, and seems to remain with them long after they close the book.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
When I was growing up, my parents took me to historic sites, and gave me books to read about American history. History has always seemed alive to me, and (paraphrasing Lincoln) I am almostready to say that this is probably true: time travel is possible if you have a disciplined imagination.
JF: What is your next project?
NK: Right now I am revising and expanding my Fortress Introduction to the History of Christianity in the U.S. After that, I hope to write a biography of Sojourner Truth. I love writing biographies, because it is rewarding to get to know someone from the past as deeply as you can.
JF: Thanks, Nancy
Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner.