cover image Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson

Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson

Barbara Ransby. Yale Univ., $35 (434p) ISBN 978-0-300-18907-0

Eslanda "Essie" Cardozo Goode Robeson was the wife of the legendary singer and actor Paul Robeson. Yet, as Ransby, a professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois- Chicago, shows in this passionate biography, Eslanda ("Essie" to her friends) enacted many roles. Though Essie was her husband's biggest promoter, indispensable as his manager in his early career, she also became well-known as an anthropologist, author, U.N. correspondent, powerful advocate for women's rights, and an impassioned anticolonial activist. Born in 1895, when opportunities for blacks were exceedingly limited, Essie finished college, headed the pathology lab at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, pursued a Ph.D. in anthropology, and traveled, often on her own, through South Africa, Uganda, the Congo, China, and Central America. Determined to rescue Essie from the shadow of her famous husband, Ransby acts as Essie's staunch advocate, setting her subject's remarkable life story against the backdrop of the major movements of the 20th century: the Harlem Renaissance, WWII, the cold war, African decolonization, and the beginnings of the Black Freedom movement. Although her husband's celebrity and her light skin allowed Essie access into regions of white society, Ransby highlights how Essie truly became a citizen of the world. Agent: Sandy Dijkstra. (Jan.)