Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Or, Gustavus Vassa, the African

ISBN-10: 0375761152
ISBN-13: 9780375761157
Edition: 2003 (Reprint)
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Description: Edited and with Notes by Shelly Eversley Introduction by Robert Reid-Pharr In this truly astonishing eighteenth-century memoir, Olaudah Equiano recounts his remarkable life story, which begins when he is kidnapped in Africa as a boy and sold into  More...

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Book details

List price: $13.00
Copyright year: 2003
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 5/11/2004
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 336
Size: 5.25" wide x 8.25" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 0.770
Language: English

Edited and with Notes by Shelly Eversley Introduction by Robert Reid-Pharr In this truly astonishing eighteenth-century memoir, Olaudah Equiano recounts his remarkable life story, which begins when he is kidnapped in Africa as a boy and sold into slavery and culminates when he has achieved renown as a British antislavery advocate. The narrative “is a strikingly beautiful monument to the startling combination of skill, cunning, and plain good luck that allowed him to win his freedom, write his story, and gain international prominence,” writes Robert Reid-Pharr in his Introduction. “He alerts us to the very concerns that trouble modern intellectuals, black, white, and otherwise, on both sides of the Atlantic.” The text of this Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the definitive ninth edition of 1794, reflecting the author’s final changes to his masterwork.

One of the most remarkable figures in the history of African literature is Olaudah Equiano, who is also known as Gustavus Vassa. He was born into an Igbo community that he called Essaka, or most probably Isieke, in what is now the Ihiala local government area of the Anambra State of Nigeria. Captured and sold into slavery at the age of 12, he was taken to the West Indies. There he was resold to a British naval officer who helped him acquire an education and some nautical experience. When Equiano was beginning to consider himself a free man, he was unexpectedly sold again to a Philadelphia trader, for whom he undertook business trips to the West Indies. These trips enabled Equiano to make enough money to buy his freedom. As a free man, Equiano continued his vocation as a sailor and traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, and the Americas. He eventually joined the abolitionist movement in Great Britain, where he settled down as a respectable African European, married an English woman, and had two children. Equiano moved in high social circles, wrote and spoke frequently in various public media on abolition issues, and petitioned the British Parliament on the evils of slavery. But by far his most important contribution to the abolition movement was his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, which was first published in London in 1789. Not only was The Interesting Narrative an eloquent diatribe against the evils of slavery; its early chapters presented a thoroughly idyllic picture of the culture, social life, and geographical environment of his Igbo home, which he describes as "a charming, fruitful vale." In the autobiography, Equiano refutes the detractions of African peoples in European and oriental literatures, religious dogmas, and philosophical and ethnographic writings. He emerges as the first spokesperson of pan-African nationalism, black consciousness, negritude, and a whole range of other contemporary African and African American intellectual movements. The Narrative is a mixture of factual ethnographic and historical details, debatable assertions, and outright fallacies; it is as mystifying as it is revealing. So powerful is its eighteenth-century rhetorical style that, despite the assertion in its title that it was "written by himself," few of his white contemporaries were convinced that such elegant prose and humane sentiments could be written by an African.

Howard P. Chudacoff is George L. Littlefield Professor of American History at Brown University. His many books include How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture, and The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture.Robert Reid-Pharr is Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Black Gay Man: Essays (available from NYU Press) and Conjugal Union: The Body, the House and the Black American.

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