African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook

African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook

African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook

African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

Chronicling the autobiographical tradition in African American literature from the 18th century to the present, this volume features 66 authors from Maya Angelou to Malcolm X. Alphabetized entries, written by expert contributors, include concise biographies, overviews of autobiographical works and themes, reviews of critical receptions, and bibliographies.

Excerpt

The earliest cultural conflict between blacks and whites in the United States can be framed partly as a conflict between orality and literacy. As a preindustrial people systematically denied access even to the rudimentary tools of literacy in the New World, the imaginative texts created by African Americans during the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth centuries remained exclusively in oral form. Blending their West African cultural memories and their harsh American experiences, the early preliterate African American artists pioneered a unique Afro–New World idiom that found expression in their work songs, folktales, spirituals, sermons, and other verbal structures that were orally transmitted across generations. In political terms, however, those cultural productions were no match for the power of the written texts produced by the literate segments of white America. Books, after all, are not innocent entities; they are repositories of ideology. Inscribed in an overwhelming majority of early American political, legal, religious, medical, and literary texts were racist, sexist, and elitist ideologies that empowered the white male ruling class. Even when African Americans were the subject of white discourse, they were powerless—because of their preliterate status—to intervene and resist. The very absence of textual challenge from African Americans ensured the pseudolegitimization and perpetuation of white assumptions and representations. The written texts, which constitute a most potent manifestation of literacy, thus crucially helped establish and maintain white hegemony and functioned as powerful instruments of domination.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, however, the terms of the racial encounter were gradually rearranged. African Americans began to write. Soon autobiographical narration emerged as a preferred mode of creative self-expression. To a large extent, this privileging of self-representational writing over other textual forms was a result of encouragement by Northern white abolition-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.