The transatlantic slave trade was the underside of the Enlightenment's achievements in social progress, and for many Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Afro-Americans, narratives of their experiences were the most powerful weapons for achieving self-affirmation and freedom. "The stakes were high," notes Pioneers of the Black Atlantic
coeditor Henry Louis Gates Jr. "If blacks could be shown to be capable of imaginative literature, they might jump a few links of the Chain of Being, in a pernicious game of 'Mother May I?'" The five works in this engaging collection represent the wide range of opinions and viewpoints of black thought in the 18th century. "A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black" and "The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher" recount the Christian fervor of black liberation and the cultural collisions of Negroes and Indians. In "A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, As Related by Himself," we witness the New World Creolization of African and European sensibilities. Ottabah Cugoano's "Thoughts and Sentiment on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species" is an impassioned, Afro-Victorian outcry against the enslavement of human beings, while "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African" is one of the most comprehensive and well-known accounts of the early American black experience (and is, by far, the longest of the narratives here). Pioneers of the Black Atlantic
provides valuable insight into a literary movement that was as powerful in its day as the Harlem Renaissance would be a century later. As Gates's collaborator, William L. Andrews, writes, "The literary efforts of these pioneering writers to fashion a distinctly multicultural identity for themselves in their autobiographies resonate powerfully with our contemporary world." --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Library Journal
Presenting five autobiographies?of John Jea, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, John Marrant, Ottobah Cugoano, and Olaudah Equiano?published in English between 1772 and 1815, this collection advances the conception of a sophisticated black Atlantic community of social and cultural Creoles related to Africa, America, and Europe. Edited (but not abridged) to facilitate contemporary reading, the five texts reveal early black writers sharing not merely sensibilities but also texts, themes, and figures in a discourse that created the connections for the sociopolitical groundwork of an African American literary tradition. Andrews (English, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) puts the texts in historical perspective in his preface, and the prolific Gates (African American studies, Harvard) gives them a literary context with a provocative introduction. More than a convenient collection, this work is important for the framework it offers and is highly recommended for collections in modern history, literature, and political protest.?Thomas Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
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