Jane Austen's life is striking for the contrast between the great works she wrote in secret and the outward appearance of being quite dull and ordinary. Austen was born in the small English town of Steventon in Hampshire, and educated at home by her clergyman father. She was deeply devoted to her family. For a short time, the Austens lived in the resort city of Bath, but when her father died, they returned to Steventon, where Austen lived until her death at the age of 41. Austen was drawn to literature early, she began writing novels that satirized both the writers and the manners of the 1790's. Her sharp sense of humor and keen eye for the ridiculous in human behavior gave her works lasting appeal. She is at her best in such books as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), in which she examines and often ridicules the behavior of small groups of middle-class characters. Austen relies heavily on conversations among her characters to reveal their personalities, and at times her novels read almost like plays. Several of them have, in fact, been made into films. She is considered to be one of the most beloved British authors.Born in Jacksonville Fla. in 1871, James Weldon Johnson was one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. His career was varied and included periods as a teacher, lawyer, songwriter (with his brother J. Rosamond Johnson), and diplomat (as United States Consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, from 1906 to 1909). Among his most famous writings are Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, published anonymously in 1912, and God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927), the winner of the Harmon Gold Award. He was also editor of several anthologies of African-American poetry and spirituals, and in 1933 his autobiography, Along This Way, was published. He served as Secretary to the NAACP from 1916 to 1930 and was a professor of literature at Fisk University in Nashville from 1930 until his death in 1938.
William L. Andrews was born in 1946. He earned his B.A. from Davidson College in 1968. He received his M.A. in 1970 and Ph.D. in 1973, respectively, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he is currently the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English. His first book, The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt, published in 1980, deals with a seminal figure in the development of African American and Southern American prose fiction. While researching To Tell a Free Story, a history of African American autobiography up to 1865, Andrews became greatly interested in autobiography studies. Since 1988 he has been the general editor of a book series, titled Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography, which is published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Since the mid-1980's he has done a considerable amount of editing of African American and southern literature and criticism. The fruition of this work has been The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, published in 1997, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, also published in 1997, and The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology, three big collaborative projects that Andrews has co-edited. He went on to be the series editor of North American Slave Narratives, Beginnings to 1920, a complete digitized library of autobiographies and biographies of North American slaves and ex-slaves, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ameritech, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.