December 3, 2009

Annette Gordon-Reed: Conversations from the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference

Host Marcia Franklin explores the complex bonds between President Thomas Jefferson and one of his slave families, the Hemingses. Franklin talks with Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor at Rutgers University and the New York College of Law, about her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. The book won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Using primary source documents, as well as second-hand accounts, Gordon-Reed tries to piece together the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, with whom most historians now believe he had as many as seven children. Hemings, a slave at Monticello, was also the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha, who died when Jefferson was 39.

Franklin and Gordon-Reed talk about how the controversy over Sally Hemings has been viewed over the centuries, and also about the relationship between Jefferson and the larger Hemings family.

Franklin also asks Gordon-Reed what Jefferson might have thought about the election of President Barack Obama, America's first African-American president.

The interview was conducted at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. Since 1995, the conference has been bringing together authors to talk about literature and life. Franklin has conducted interviews at the event since 2005. They can be found at