Was the Father of Russian Lit a Brother?

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: Find out if Alexander Pushkin's African roots held meaning for him.

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And he would fight with his pen to protect his great-grandfather's honor. In response to a vicious racist attack by a literary rival, Faddei Bulgarin casting aspersions on Gannibal's status as a slave "bought … for a bottle of rum," Pushkin, in a piece called "My Genealogy," responded, "the blackamoor purchased cheaply grew up diligent, unpurchasable, a confidant to the tsar, and not a slave," as Thomas J. Shaw related at length in Under the Sky of My Africa .

Fyodor Dostoevsky perhaps defined Pushkin's unique status best, referring to what today we might call his "cultural hybridity": "I state categorically that there has never been a poet with such universal responsiveness as Pushkin. It is not only a matter of responsiveness but also of its amazing depth, the reincarnation in his spirit of the spirit of foreign peoples, a reincarnation that is almost total and is therefore miraculous." Pushkin's literary legacy shines brightly, nearly two centuries after his tragic death, "under the sky of my Africa," as he once put it so lyrically himself.

As always, you can find more "Amazing Facts About the Negro" on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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