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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

New Novel Challenges Vermont's Historical Record On Slavery

"The Long Shadow" by Beth Kanell is set in the Northeast Kingdom in the run-up to the Civil War.
images courtesy of Beth Kanell
"The Long Shadow" by Beth Kanell is set in the Northeast Kingdom in the runup to the Civil War.-

A new historical novel geared to a teenage audience tells the story of a young woman in the Northeast Kingdom in the run-up to the Civil War. Author Beth Kanell says she wrote the novel in part to challenge Vermonters on how they think about the state's history in relation to slavery. 

Vermont's role in the Underground Railroad has long been a point of pride. The traditional narrative is that many houses and families in our state secretly harbored a steady stream of fugitive people as they fled to freedom in Canada in the years leading up to the Civil War.

The problem, Kannel emphasizes, is a lot of this story is not accurate.

Historical work in the past decades - including a state-sponsored survey in 1996 - has shed doubt on nearly every part of the narrative. In response, many Vermonters have been less than happy about the apparent dismantling of a story fundamental to their sense of the state's identity.

The debates around this history are part of what led Beth Kanell to write her new historical novel, The Long Shadow, and she spoke to Vermont Edition about the true history behind her work of fiction.

Broadcast live on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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