THE BONDSWOMAN’S NARRATIVE,” a recently discovered manuscript that historians say may be the first novel by an African-American woman, could be destined for the smallscreen. HBO is in talks to acquire rights to the book, the story of a woman’s life as a slave on a North Carolina plantation. The manuscript was purchased by Henry Louis Gates, chair of Harvard’s African-American studies department. Warner Books will publish it with an introduction by Gates, who could play a significant role in its dramatic adaptation.

Twenty-five years after “Roots” became a national phenomenon, Hollywood is grappling with new ways to dramatize slavery and its legacy. On the heels of the Hallmark channel’s “Roots” rebroadcast last month, a spate of projects have surfaced that may create a higher Hollywood profile for this difficult subject.

Wind Dancer Films has optioned Pagan Kennedy’s new book, “Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in Nineteenth-Century Congo.”

The book isn’t about slavery, but it deals candidly with American race relations after the Civil War. It’s the story of William Sheppard, one of the first black American missionaries to travel to Africa, who ventured to Congo to found an African-American utopian community.

Wind Dancer, producers of “What Women Want,” will develop “Livingstone” as a big budget feature. “Hopefully you will get onscreen the scope and beauty of Africa,” says Wind Dancer principal David McFadzean. “You also hope you’ll get a sense of the size of this character, his remarkable life and impact.” Wind Dancer director of development Roz Weisberg, will oversee the project with McFadzean.

Both books are repped by CAA.

As with “Roots,” and more recent features like “Beloved” and “Amistad,” Hollywood has typically depended on literary road maps for such projects.

As one of its black history month features, HBO has been airing “The Middle Passage,” a French film based on a script by novelist Patrick Chamoiseau. Bestselling author Walter Mosley adapted “Passage” for HBO.

INVESTMENT HOUSE GOLDMAN SACHS remained tight-lipped Tuesday about reports that it plans to sink $1 billion into the magazine market.

If the bank were to invest a sizable sum in the magazine biz, either to start a magazine unit or prop up an already existing company, the financing would likely come from Goldman Sachs Capital Partners 2000 — a $5.2 billion private equity fund — according to a source familiar with the fund.

But it would also likely be less than $1 billion; previous investments by Capital Partners 2000 have generally been between $100 million and $300 million.

In recent years, a number of financial giants have flouted the risks of media investment, taking sizable stakes in media companies like the United Artists theater chain (Merrill Lynch) and Primedia (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.).

Goldman Sachs, which employs a division of bankers specializing in media, already has a stake in Village Voice media.

Goldman Sachs would be marshaling its investment in the wake of an especially rocky year for magazine publishing that saw industrywide ad revenues fall 4.9%, and ad pages fall 11.7% over 2000, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, says Leland Westerfield, an analyst at UBS Warburg/Paine Webber.

Recent weeks and months notwithstanding, says Westerfield, the magazine biz “shows a predictable and stable level of cash flow profitability.”

The technology boom and bust, he says, “has shown it’s the dinosaurs of media that continue to dominate the planet.”

SANGUINE IN THE HOPES that the next Tom Clancy may be hiding on the backlist of an obscure publishing house specializing in tales of warfare and national defense, Random House Inc. has fortified its military publishing program, acquiring the Presidio Press, an indie publisher of military history and fiction.

The Presidio Press will become an imprint of Ballantine Books. Ballantine will also absorb Presidio’s backlist of 150 titles.

Founded as a mail-order publisher of scholarly military history books in 1974, the press gradually became a prominent trade publisher focused on books about WWII and Vietnam.

The Random House acquisition comes at a time when America is preoccupied with martial matters and studio slates are jammed with war movies.

Even before Sept. 11, however, military publishing was a lucrative genre, producing a number of writers who became fixtures on national bestseller lists.

In 1984, the Naval Institute Press acquired Clancy’s first novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” for $5,000. The book was later endorsed by Ronald Reagan, putting Clancy on the road to superstardom.

As Ballantine publisher Gina Centrello put it, “the demand for titles about military affairs seldom wavers among readers across all demographics and reading interest in the subject has greatly increased these past months.”

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