Joel Chandler Harris was the first writer to create a regional literature of lasting interest out of the oral tradition of African American dialect stories told in the South in the nineteenth century. Although he wrote many newspaper articles, children’s stories, and novels about African Americans and mountaineers, he is remembered chiefly for his Uncle Remus stories. Born near Eatonton in Putnam County, Georgia, Harris was educated in a local private school and encouraged to write by his mother. At the age of fourteen, he became a printer’s devil on The Countryman, but in 1864 the approach of Union troops forced him to leave the area. After working as a reporter on newspapers in New Orleans and Macon, Georgia, he returned to Eatonton and wrote humor pieces for the Savannah Morning News. In 1876, he became a staff writer for the Atlanta Constitution, where he remained for twenty-four years.
One of Harris’s assignments at the Constitution was to write humorous sketches. For this he began a study of African American folklore and dialect and attempted to reproduce the oral tales realistically in writing. The pieces that resulted were so successful when they appeared in newspapers in the North and the South that a selection was published in 1880 as Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings. The stories are fables, related to one another by the dialect and personality of the narrator, Uncle Remus, who, not unlike Harris, was kindly and even-tempered yet shrewd. It was Remus’s delight in the methods used by the underdog members of his bestiary—especially Brer Rabbit—that so enthralled the readers of these tales. Prompted by reader demand, Harris produced hundreds of Uncle Remus tales, and from 1907 until his death he edited Uncle Remus’s Magazine.