Dr. Charles Bolton opened his email during a quarantine day, taking a break from research and spending time with his family to see an email about his book. He was excited to receive the news that his book, “Fugitivism: Escaping Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 1820-1860.”
Bolton, who is professor emeritus of history at UA Little Rock, was surprised as he had won this award once before in 1999. The Booker Worthen Literacy Prize was originally awarded to the best books in nonfiction that were history-related to Arkansas. Now, the literacy prize is given to the best published book by an Arkansan.
“I was particularly excited,” said Bolton, “to win a prize that applied to all Arkansans and was open to fiction and nonfiction. That’s a really big deal for me.”
His book focuses on the topic of being a fugitive and escaping slavery. He got this idea when he was working on other research for the National Park Service. He found that he was interested in runaway slave advertisements, especially how slave owners were portraying these advertisements as wanting to get their property back.
“Fugitivism: Escaping Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 1820-1860” was a project that took Bolton eight to nine years to write. He was working on it before he retired from UA Little Rock in 2009. The book was published Aug. 22 2019 by the University of Arkansas Press. He strived to make his book as full of information as possible but also wanted to avoid making it too technical. Bolton described the book.
“What I was trying to do,” said Bolton, “was write a book that would appeal to a broad segment of the population who might be interested in not only African-American issues but racial justice…at the same time you have to write a book that will be accepted by professional historians.”
He hoped his book would be able to enter the conversations about race that are happening today. Bolton tried to denounce the myth that most escaped slaves ran to the north. Escaped slaves escaped for a variety of reasons.
“Lots of times they wanted to go to a city,” Bolton said. “People in the lower Mississippi Valley escaped to go to New Orleans. I mean they’re just like me and you. They’re attracted to cities.”
The book received positive reviews and is now the winner of the Booker Worthen Literacy Prize. Bolton enjoyed the positive parts of writing, like spending time learning and researching new topics and new places. He described how much easier technology makes research. The accessibility makes it easier to find information about the topics he was interested in. There are more learning opportunities now than before.
Bolton gave advice to students that are interested in academic research and writing.
“Take all the courses, professors want you to write,” Bolton said. “The history department you now have at UA Little Rock is as good now as it ever has been.”
He continued, “If you want to write, you’ve got to write. Work with the best people you can work with. Look for people who are going to give you solid criticism, you have to learn to accept that. It’s not that your critics are always going to be right. But, your stuff is going to be better if you do.”