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The Classic Slave Narratives-paperback Paperback – January 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Africana Studies at Cornell University, and also tenured at Yale, Duke, and Harvard, where he was appointed W.E.B. DuBois professor of humanities in 1991. Professor Gates is the author of Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self, Wonders of the African World, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, Loose Cannons: Notes on the Culture Wars, and Colored People: A Memoir. With Cornel West, he co-wrote The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country and The Future of the Race. He is also the editor of the critically-acclaimed edition of Our Nig, an annotated reprint of Harriet E. Wilson’s 1859 novel, The Slave’s Narrative (with the late Charles T. Davis), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience, Six Women’s Slave Narratives, and In the House of Oshugbo: Critical Essays on Wole Soyinka. He is a recipient of the MacArthur Prize.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Signet Classics; Reissue edition (January 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451528247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451528247
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 1.5 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on January 22, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The practice of enslavement in the Americas is a phenomenon of staggering proportions. It is also one of the most thoroughly documented systems of human rights abuse in history. "The Classic Slave Narratives" brings together four powerful testaments of individuals who survived enslavement in the Americas. The book also contains an insightful introduction by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
As Gates notes in the introduction, it has been estimated that more than 6,000 ex-slaves left some form of written testament between 1703 and 1944--an amazing body of literature. "The Classic Slave Narratives" is thus just a tiny part of a vast genre. Specifically, this anthology contains "the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano," "The History of Mary Prince," "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," and Harriet Jacobs' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."
Each of the four powerful texts offers an effective complement to the others in the collection. In other words, each narrative illuminates at least one unique and important aspect of the American slave experience. Olaudah Equiano, for example, tells what it was like for a native African to be enslaved and transported across the Atlantic in a slave ship. Prince illuminates the life of a slave woman on the Caribbean islands. Douglass, born to a slave mother and a white father, describes in detail his quest for literacy. And Jacobs offers an incisive window into the sexual pathology of the slaveowning society.
These four texts are both valuable historical documents and fascinating works of literature. Much American literature--autobiography, poetry, novels, essays, and other genres--demonstrates the influence of, or parallels to, these pivotal texts. "The Classic Slave Narratives" is a necessary text for those interested in United States and Caribbean history, in American literature, in literacy, or in human rights.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 4, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
These are stories of courage against great odds, first-hand accounts of an incredible institutionalized holocaust that was standard operating procedure in this country for hundreds of years. Some of these writings were best sellers of their time, but today they are too much an ill-kept secret. Yet I bet the average person living in the U.S. today only knows the name of one of the authors of these narratives. Read a first-hand account of the middle passage. Learn about the woman who spent almost a decade in a crawl space to escape the life of a slave. Find out the story of a man who risked life and limb to give public lectures against slavery, while he himself was still not legally free. You will never know what has been hidden from you, you owe it to yourself, your mother, and your child to read these stories told by Black people who lived through, and fought against, slavery. I also highly recommend Beloved, both the movie and the book, as well as the recent PBS series on slavery.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ted on January 18, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Dr. Henry Louis Gates continues his important work in this volume. It should be mandatory in every middle school in America, without exception. Besides breathing emotional life into the lives of slaves - which is always missing in the broader historical context - one comes to realize how England, France, America and Portugal became such wealthy nations: through many generations of people consigned to labor from early childhood until they died. Dr. Gates doesn't need to make this political observation - the reader arrives at that conclusion from the narratives themselves. The narrators communicate how their minds and hearts stayed on freedom. Such thoughts occur while walking to the fields, while forced to observe others being brutalized, or when they have been promised freedom, only to find themselves sold to another owner and bound for the West Indies instead. When the last page is turned, not only does the reader feel a profound gratitude - for the narrators, for those whose stories were not recorded, for those who died on the middle passage or jumped overboard instead, and for our own relative freedom - but one understands that the issue of reparations from England, France, and the U.S. isn't far-fetched at all. It would have been the only decent thing to have done. I felt deep gratitude to Dr. Gates also for helping to ensure that this history is preserved, made available, and told over and again. The loving care with which this volume has been edited is evident.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert W. Kellemen on June 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
Henry Louis Gates provides readers with an important contribution to the many first-hand accounts of enslavement. His scintillating introduction ties together the life and times of four African Americans who narrated their own story of slavery: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. The diversity chosen by Gates allows readers to gain a comprehensive perspective of the horrors of slavery: women/men, South/North, born in African/born in America. Readers desiring additional first-hand accounts are encouraged to consider compilations by Yetman of the slave interviews.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care And Spiritual Direction, and Soul Physicians.
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