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Chronicling the autobiographical tradition in African American literature from the 18th century to the present, this volume features 66 authors from Maya Angelou to Malcolm X. Alphabetized entries, written by expert contributors, include concise biographies, overviews of autobiographical works and themes, reviews of critical receptions, and bibliographies.
A collection of the best critical essays reflecting both older and newer perspectives. Will also contain an introduction by the editor (a respected scholar in the field), a chronology of the author's life, and an annotated bibliography.
Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X—their words speak firmly, eloquently, personally of the impact of white America on the lives of African-Americans. Black autobiographical discourses, from the earliest slave narratives to the most contemporary urban raps, have each in their own way gauged and confronted the character of white society. For Crispin Sartwell, as philosopher, cultural critic, and white male, these texts, through their exacting insights and external perspective, provide a rare opportunity, a means of glimpsing and gaining access to contents and core of white identity. There is, Sartwell contends, a fundamental elusiveness to that identity. Whiteness defines itself as normative, as a neutral form of the human condition, marking all other forms of identity as "racial" or "ethnic" deviations. Invisible to itself, white identity seeks to define its essence over and against those other identities, in effect defining itself through opposition and oppression. By maintaining fictions of black licentiousness, violence, and corruption, white identity is able to cast itself as humane, benevolent, and pure; the stereotype fabricates not only the oppressed but the oppressor as well. Sartwell argues that African-American autobiography perceives white identity from a particular and unique vantage point; one that is knowledgeable and intimate, yet fundamentally removed from the white world and thus unencumbered by its obfuscating claims to normativity. Throughout this provocative work, Sartwell steadfastly recognizes the many ways in which he too is implicated in the formulation and perpetuation of racial attitudes and discourse. In Act Like You Know, he challenges both himself and others to take a long, hard look in the mirror of African-American autobiography, and to find there, in the light of those narratives, the visible features of white identity.
From the 1760s to Barack Obama, this collection offers fresh looks at classic African American life narratives; highlights neglected African American lives, texts, and genres; and discusses the diverse outpouring of twenty-first-century memoirs.
The first four essays review the major historical periods of American autobiography, placing the classic texts of American autobiographical literature from Captain John Smith to Malcolm X in the illuminating context of lesser-known contemporary narratives. Daniel B. Shea writes on colonial America, Lawrence Buell on the American Renaissance, Susanna Egan on the years after the Civil War, and Albert E. Stone on the twentieth century. The second part of American Autobiography shows the diversity of voices, forms, audiences, and modes of identity in the literature of American autobiography. Provocative essays by William Boelhower and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong on immigrant autobiography discuss the changes in the sense of self that occur when strangers come to a strange land. Arnold Krupat writes about how American Indians conceptualize the self and about the relationship between oral and written discourse. William L. Andrews evaluates the strong body of critical theory that has grown up around African-American autobiography, showing how both the genre and its criticism have responded to contemporary historical pressures. Carol Holly explores the model of personal identity that underlies nineteenth-century women’s autobiographies, and Blanche Gelfant examines the narrative and political strategies of Emma Goldman’s autobiography, especially her use of popular romance and melodrama. The last essay offers a more personal perspective on contemporary autobiography: a “dialogue” between Robert and Jane Coles about how they developed their method of eliciting first-person oral narratives for their famous Children of Crisis and Women of Crisis series. These essays raise theoretical issues that are examined in Paul John Eakin’s incisive introduction: How do we define a literary genre of protean shape and perplexing cultural multiplicity? How do we approach the special problems created by documents that are both historical and literary texts, ones that pose difficult questions about truth and representation? Most important, how is the canon of American autobiography to be constructed, and how is its history to be written? Tracing that critical history, Eakin explains how changing ideas about “the mainstream” and “the marginal” have revitalized our retrospective view of American autobiography and opened up new and exciting prospects for today’s reader.
Focusing primarily on the period from the eighteenth-century to the present, this interdisciplinary volume takes a fresh look at the institutions and practices of autobiography and self-portraiture in Europe, the United States and other cultures.
Through an analysis of classic slave narratives in comparison with texts such as the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, this study presents a new paradigm for the social character of the African American autobiography. Since the rise of Black Studies in the late 1960s, leading critics have constructed black lives and letters as antitheses to the ways and writings of mainstream culture. That position fosters the notion that black autobiography differs radically from heroic white American tales. But this volume argues that the African American autobiography is a continuation of the epic tradition, and that African Americans have shared and shaped the American experience.

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