African American Autobiography Collection Critical Essays

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African-American Literature to 1925: A Short Selected Secondary Bibliography


See also works on individual authors and movements.

Adell, Sandra. Double Consciousness/Double Blind: Theoretical Issues in Twentieth-Century Black Literature. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Ammons, Elizabeth, and Annette White-Parks, eds. Tricksterism in Turn-of-the-Century American Literature. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994.

Ammons, Elizabeth. Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn into the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford Press, 1991

Andrews, William L, ed. African American Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993.

Andrews, William.  Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Andrews, William L. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Andrews, William L., Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds. The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Bell, Bernard W. The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.

Boelhower, William. Through a Glass Darkly: Ethnic Semiosis in American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Bontemps, Arna.The Harlem Renaissance Remembered. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972.

Braxton, Joanne. Black Women Writing Autobiography: A Tradition Within a Tradition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

Brown, Sterling. Negro Poetry and Drama & The Negro in America Fiction. [1937] Preface by Robert A. Bone. New York: Atheneum, 1969.

Bruce, Dickson D., Jr. Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877-1915. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Callahan, John F. In the African-American Grain: Call-and-Response in Twentieth-Century Black Fiction. 2nd ed. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1990.

Russ Castronovo, Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom.

Chambers-Schiller, Lee Virginia, and Sidney Kaplan, eds. Black and White in American Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1969.

Christian, Barbara. Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Davies, Carole Boyce. Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Davis, Charles T., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Slave's Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Douglas, Ann. Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: Farrar, 1995.

duCille, Ann. The Coupling Convention: Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Foster, Frances Smith. The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives. 2nd. ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

Foster, Frances Smith. Written by Herself: Literary Production of Early African American Women Writers.

Gardner, Jared. Master Plots: Race and the Founding of American Literature, 1787-1845. 1998.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Loose Canons. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed. Black Literature and Literary Theory. New York: Methuen, 1984.

Greene, J. Lee. Blacks in Eden: The African American Novel's First Century. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. "Who Set you Flowin'?": The African-American Migration Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Gunning, Sandra. Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Holloway, Karla F.C. Moorings and Metaphors: Figures of Culture and Gender in Black Women's Literature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

Hubbard, Dolan. The Sermon and the African American Literary Imagination. Columbia University of Missouri Press, 1994.

Huggins, Nathan. Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford U P, 1971.

Hull, Gloria. Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1987.

Hutchinson, George. The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White. Cambridge: Belknap P of Harvard U P, 1995.

Jackson, Blyden. The History of Afro-American Literature. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989-.

Jordan, Casper LeRoy. A Bibliographical Guide to African-American Women Writers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Kinney, James. Amalgamation! Race, Sex, and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Levine, Robert. Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity. 1998.

Locke, Alain, ed. The New Negro. 1925. New York: Atheneum, 1968.

McDowell, Deborah E., ed. The Changin Same: Black Women's Literature, Criticism, and Theory. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1995.

McDowell, Deborah E., and Arnold Rampersad, eds. Slavery and the Literary Imagination. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Mishkin, Tracy, ed. Literary Influence and African-American Writers: Collected Essays. New York: Garland, 1996.

Mitchell, Angelyn, ed. Within the Circle: An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

Montgomery, Maxine Lavon. The Apocalypse in African-American Fiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Nelson, Dana.  The Word in Black and White: Reading "Race" in American Literature, 1638-1867.

Olney, James.  “‘I Was Born’: Slaves Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature,” in Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. The Slave’s Narrative. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985. 148-175.

Pryse, Marjorie, and Hortense J. Spillers. Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., eds. Redefining American Literary History. New York: Modern Language Association, 1990.

Scruggs, Charles. Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Sekora, John, and Darwin T. Turner, eds. The Art of Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory. Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1982.

Snead, James. "Racist Trends in Postmodernist Theory and Literature." Critical Quarterly 33.1 (1991): 31-39.

Snead, James, Cornel West, and Colin MacCabe. White Images/Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side. New York : Routledge, 1994.

Snead, James A. "On Repetition in Black Culture." Black American Literature Forum 15.4 (1981): 146-54.

Sollors, Werner. Neither Black nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature. New York: Oxford U P, 1997.

Stepto, Robert. From Behind The Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Sundquist, Eric, ed. Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.

Sundquist, Eric. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993.

Tate, Claudia. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's Text at the turn of the Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Wall, Cheryl. Women of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1995.

Warren, Kenneth W. Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. Whitlow, Roger. Black American Literature: A Critical History. Rev. ed. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976.

Comments to D. Campbell.

Eric Lamore, editor of Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism, spoke with us about why it’s necessary to study overlooked texts to gain deep insight into African American life narratives. His book is published today in the Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography series. 

What influence do you think that President Obama has had upon readers and writers of African American autobiography?

In putting together this collection of eleven essays on African American autobiography, I was particularly interested in Robert B. Stepto’s claim that scholars of African American literature need to rethink this canon because the President of the United

1995 edition

States for the last eight years is himself an African American writer. In his book, A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama, Stepto compares relevant parts from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, with foundational literary texts, some of which are autobiographies. I titled my introduction “African American Autobiography in the Age of Obama” to emphasize this connection.

2004 edition

This election season, I went back and reread Obama’s Dreams, and I was struck by the President’s comments on reading. He wrote in the preface to the 2004 edition of his memoir that he wanted to revise parts of his book, because he would have told his life story differently had he written it later in his life. But, he commented that his 1995 memoir would be read differently as republished in a post-911 world, so he was quite aware of the relationship between text, reader, and context. Part of Obama’s contribution to the study of African American life narratives in the twenty-first century is this important point about the need to reread older life narratives, because cultural and political landscapes continue to change in the United States and around the world. One could reread pertinent African American life narratives from the past, for example, in the context of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

I think Obama’s Dreams also laid an important textual foundation for African American life narrators in the twenty-first century. Though Dreams was first published in 1995, Obama’s explorations of the biracial self, and his search for people and places (including outside the United States) that impacted his constructions of self, are found in much of twenty-first-century African American life writing. The last four essays in Reading African American Autobiography explore these themes. There are striking parallels between Obama’s Dreams and twenty-first-century African American life writing that scholars need to explore further.

How might future scholarship build on the essays in this volume?

The contributors and I collectively make the case that reading these life narratives in the twenty-first century requires scholars to consider a wide array of texts and a host of critical approaches. We also directly address ways that innovative critical frameworks, such as ecocriticism or queer theory, allow scholars to reread seminal life stories from our past in new ways.

Some of the contributors reclaim overlooked texts and lives, including a criminal confession published on a broadside in the late eighteenth century, an abridged edition of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography published for children and adolescent readers in nineteenth-century New York, an uplift narrative published after the Civil War that contains important photographs, and autobiographical graphic narratives published in the late twentieth century. The slave narratives published in the antebellum period still remain very important, of course, but my book makes the case that scholars need to spend more time analyzing other overlooked texts and lives. More work needs to be done to recover neglected aspects of African American lives and to dig into texts that have not received adequate critical attention.

We also call for studying a wider range of genres. Scholars today can look at the presentation of self in blogs, YouTube posts, graphic narratives, films, and photography, to name just a few genres. The intersection of genealogy and genetics, too, has produced all kinds of new information on African American lives that we need to consider. The printed page is still important, but these other channels make it clear that African American life narrators are telling their stories and exploring the self in ways beyond the writing of a memoir. All these varied explorations have expanded the canon of African American life narrative in dramatic ways. There is no doubt that the field must and will become more interdisciplinary.

In the book, we also look at celebrity life writing in the twenty-first-century. Almost all examples of this in the African American life narrative canon are collaborative projects. It would be fruitful to study that process, especially if there is documentation (transcribed interviews, recordings, and the like) mapping how the celebrity and the collaborating writer worked together.

In the chapter that you contributed to this collection about Olaudah Equiano, you draw on the history of books and publishing to shed light on the complex textual histories of the African American autobiographical tradition. 

Yes, I’ve been influenced by scholarship on early black Atlantic literature and book history. I’ve written here about Abigail Mott’s 1829 abridged edition of Equiano’s autobiography. Usually, Equiano is understood as one of the main individuals of African descent involved in the political movement against the slave trade in 1780s Great Britain. The point of my chapter is that there is a whole different story on Equiano if you look closely at the several different editions of his autobiography that were published in the United States, both during his lifetime and following his death. Mott’s 1829 edition, published thirty-two years after Equiano’s death, was aimed at students in the New York African Free School. It is the first edition of Equiano’s autobiography I know of that was edited specifically for young African American readers in the United States.

Mott’s abridged edition is a perfect example of what I referred to earlier as an overlooked text. By looking at more than one edition, we can discover that Equiano’s autobiography was edited and read in the United States differently from editions published in Great Britain. These differences tell us a great deal about how editors and book publishers packaged Equiano’s life in specific ways for their readers. Mott’s edition shows us one of the points where Equiano’s autobiography entered the African American canon (though he clearly viewed himself as an Afro-British subject). Studying abridged, unauthorized, and posthumous editions of early black Atlantic life writing reveals a great deal about the changing histories and contexts of works that shaped the beginnings of the African American life writing tradition.

Eric D. Lamore is an associate professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He is the editor of Teaching Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative: Pedagogical Strategies and New Perspectives and coeditor of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley.

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