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Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina - University of Massachusetts Amherst. Amherst, MA, US

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography and Professor of English | University of Massachusetts Amherst


Gretchen Gerzina is a specialist on the novel and biography, focusing on Black British studies, Victorian studies and mixed race studies..

Expertise (4)

Victorian Studies

Black British Studies

African American Women’s Writing

Mixed Race Studies


Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is a specialist on the novel and biography, she works in the fields of Black British studies; Victorian studies (including Victorian children’s literature); African American women’s writing (especially Toni Morrison), and mixed race studies. She has published nine books in these fields, with two more in the works, and has published numerous articles and reviews.

She works extensively in the media in both Britain and America. She hosted a nationally-syndicated author interview program on American public radio for fifteen years, and appears regularly in podcasts and on British radio, including hosting a ten-part BBC radio series “Britain’s Black Past,” among other appearances. She lectures regularly to universities and conferences in both countries.






DFLS: Gretchen Gerzina RHS   - Freedom Seekers  - Simon Newman  - Book Launch


Select Recent Media Coverage (7)

‘Why is Bridgerton’s race twisting acceptable?’ The real problem with the show’s Black fantasy

The Guardian  online


“My concern is that everyone now starts putting Black characters into their productions in ways that reflect our current interests, but that undermine the actual history,” says Gretchen Gerzina, historian and author of Britain’s Black Past. “So much so that people believe that this was the actual history. That’s the great danger. It gives people a pass to say, ‘Oh, it was all right. They didn’t suffer and they were wealthy.’”


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Then Again: Lucy Terry Prince, a poet and storyteller who stood up to the mob

VT Digger  online


The story of the Princes has been told and retold over the years, with fact and fiction coalescing in the narrative. Biographer Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, with the research assistance of her husband, Anthony, set out to discover the true story. The resulting book, “Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and into Legend,” was published in 2008 and nominated for a Pulitzer.

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Black environmentalists... where you at?

If You Don't Know Podcast  


And black history doesn’t have to be limited to October, so author and academic Gretchen Gerzina drops in and teaches De-Graft about the first black Brits. Spoiler… they were here before the Windrush. Kayne Kawaski, a black history educator (who you might have seen on your timelines) also joins the conversation.

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Podcast Episode #73 – Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Biographers International Organization  online


In this week’s episode we interview Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Professor of Biography and English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Working with 19 other authors, her book of edited biographies, Britain’s Black Past, was published by Liverpool University Press in March 2020.

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For The 'Bridgerton' Fans: 6 Black Authors Who Write Historical Fiction Romance

Essence  print


If you have a predilection for books that have a biographical lens, the works of Dr. Gretchen Gerzina should definitely be on your radar. A scholar of the highest order, Dr. Gerzina considers it a part of her life’s work to explore, unearth, and write about the lives of those who “ … cross boundaries of history, time, place or race.”

gretchen gerzina

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An insight on growing up in Springfield: Reflections on Black History Month

Mass Appeal  online


February is Black History Month and joining us with her reflections on race and culture is author and English professor at UMass Amherst… Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina.

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Mary Seacole

BBC's You're Dead to Me Podcast  online


Greg Jenner is joined by Prof Gretchen Gerzina and comedian Nathan Caton to delve into the extraordinary life and adventures of the 19th-century celebrity, Mary Seacole. Mary was born and raised in Jamaica and rose to fame as a businesswoman and a volunteer nurse during the Crimean War. The episode explores her childhood of practising healing techniques on her pets, the perils of Panama, her experience of cholera, how she dealt with racists, the risks of running a business in a warzone and why she loved being famous.

Select Publications (4)

Black England: A Forgotten Georgian History / Black London: Life Before Emancipation

Book – John Murray Publishers

Gretchen Gerzina

The idea that Britain became a mixed-race country after 1945 is a common mistake. Georgian England had a large and distinctive Black community. Whether prosperous citizens or newly freed slaves, they all ran the risk of kidnap and sale to plantations. Black England tells their dramatic, often moving stories.

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Britain’s Black Past

Book – Liverpool University Press

edited by Gretchen H. Gerzina


Based on the 2016 series for BBC Radio 4, Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past—the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

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Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life Of The Author Of The Secret Garden

Book – Rutgers University Press

Gretchen H. Gerzina

Hugely successful in her own time for adult novels and plays, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) would be astounded to find out she is remembered for a handful of books for children, but most of all for the enormously popular Secret Garden.

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Carrington: A Life

Book – W. W. Norton

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Portrayed in novels by Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley, she made a vivid impression on those she met. A satellite member of the Bloomsbury Group, she fell hopelessly in love with man of letters, Lytton Strachey and achieved notoriety by killing herself shortly after his death.

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