Pioneers of the Black Atlantic: Five Slave Narratives from the Enlightenment, 1772-1815

Pioneers of the Black Atlantic: Five Slave Narratives from the Enlightenment, 1772-1815

Pioneers of the Black Atlantic: Five Slave Narratives from the Enlightenment, 1772-1815

Pioneers of the Black Atlantic: Five Slave Narratives from the Enlightenment, 1772-1815

Excerpt

This book contains the best work of the pioneers of the Black Atlantic literary and cultural tradition, now more than two centuries old. Instead of defining the African-descended peoples of the Atlantic world--triangulated by England, Africa, and the Americas--simply according to race, ethnicity, or nationality, Paul Gilroy, author of the widely influential The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), has argued that the Black Atlantic ought to be seen as "one single, complex unit" in which cultural, racial, economic, and political intermixing and exchange have been going on for four centuries. What if we seek the intellectual and expressive roots of English-speaking African-descended peoples of the Atlantic world in a transnational culture that, going back to the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, has always been malleable, multiple, and hybrid? What if we try to re-envision black writers of the past as sharing a common creolized cultural heritage that crossed national and ethnic boundaries and defied conventional political categories, social norms, and even literary genres? If such a creole heritage exists now, when did it begin? When eighteenth-century writers of the Black Atlantic confronted European Enlightenment notions of selfhood, race, and literacy, did their critique of these notions stem from simply a personal standpoint? Or did these early Black Atlantic writers also represent through their personal experience a cultural point of view, a set of beliefs and values embraced by African-descended peoples in the Atlantic world and articulated into a nascent literary tradition for successive generations of Black Atlantic writers to follow? The personal writings of the pioneering Black Atlantic writers in English--James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Ottobah Cugoano, John Marrant, Olaudah Equiano, and John Jea--address these questions, revealing the bedrock experience and cultural commonalities on which many Black Atlantic literary traditions rest.

The idea of a Black Atlantic community of English-speaking writers, intellectuals, and activists visibly at work in the late eighteenth century, and transnational in their experience and point of view, is still relatively new. But the research of historians and critics such as . . .

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