Cover image for African American autobiographers : a sourcebook
African American autobiographers : a sourcebook
Nelson, Emmanuel S. (Emmanuel Sampath), 1954-
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xv, 416 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS366.A35 A36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



There is growing popular and scholarly interest in autobiography, along with increasing regard for the achievements of African American writers. The first reference of its kind, this volume chronicles the autobiographical tradition in African American literature. Included are alphabetically arranged entries for 66 African American authors who present autobiographical material in their works. The volume profiles major figures, such as Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X, along with many lesser known autobiographers who deserve greater attention. While some are known primarily for their literary accomplishments, others have gained acclaim for their diverse contributions to society.

The entries are written by expert contributors and provide authoritative information about their subjects. Each begins with a concise biography, which summarizes the life and achievements of the autobiographer. This is followed by a discussion of major autobiographical works and themes, along with an overview of the autobiographer's critical reception. The entries close with primary and secondary bibliographies, and a selected, general bibliography concludes the volume. Together, the entries provide a detailed portrait of the African American autobiographical tradition from the 18th century to the present.

Author Notes

EMMANUEL S. NELSON is Professor of English at State University of New York College at Cortland. Author of more than 40 scholarly articles on various international literatures in English, he has edited numerous books, including Contemporary African American Novelists (1999), African American Authors, 1745-1945 (2000), and Asian American Novelists (2000), all available from Greenwood Press.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When African Americans began to write in the late eighteenth century, they often produced slave narratives and other autobiographical prose. They were encouraged in this by abolitionists who used these writings to support their cause. Additionally, for a people who had been denied recognition, autobiography allowed African Americans to define themselves and assert their selfhood as people rather than as property. The work of "claiming and defining the self" continues today in the writings of Maya Angelou, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and others. This book spans the historical range of African American autobiographies. Most entries are between 5 and 10 pages long, and each entry begins with birth and death dates, when known. These are followed by a succinct biography, then an analytical discussion of the works and themes and their critical reception. Each entry ends with a list of autobiographical works by the author and a bibliography of studies of those works. Because the entries are arranged alphabetically, it would have been useful to include a chronological listing of the authors. Other reference sources, such as Gale's Contemporary Authors and Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism series, African-American Writers: A Dictionary (ABC-CLIO, 2000), and Bearing Witness: Selections from African-American Autobiography in the Twentieth Century (Pantheon, 1991), cover some of the same writers, but none of them have all of the authors included here. This book provides readers and researchers with the ability to examine African American autobiography as a genre and can also be used by students interested in delving into the autobiographical aspects of the work of those who are better known for their novels, poems, and other writings. It will be useful for libraries with African American collections as well as public and academic libraries that wish to have comprehensive coverage of African American autobiographical writings.

Library Journal Review

In this unique reference tool, Nelson (English, SUNY at Cortland), the author or editor of numerous scholarly articles and books (e.g., Contemporary African American Novelists), has solicited contributions from mostly published literary scholars on representative African American authors whose works include autobiography or autobiographical material. The authors profiled, who date from the 18th century to the present, include such literary figures as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston as well as such nonliterary figures as Duke Ellington, Dick Gregory, and Frederick Douglass. The autobiographies range from captivity narratives and slave narratives to spiritual autobiographies and modern works that reveal the "fictionality of all constructed selves." Each of the 66 alphabetically arranged entries offers up-to-date biographical, critical, and bibliographical information, but the scope varies quite a bit from one entry to the next. The biographical sketches, for example, run from a single paragraph to six or seven pages in length. Although this is a well-structured compilation, it would have had more reference value if more authors had been included, even if that had meant shorter entries. The book simply cries out for a revised second edition. Suitable for larger academic and public libraries. Peter Dollard, Alma Coll., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The autobiography is a powerful writing method that chronicles the experiences, human and dehumanizing, of African American history. Nelson's collaborative work covers African American autobiographers from the mid-18th century to the late 1990s. It highlights 67 autobiographers, obscure to popular, and provides useful if brief biographical, critical, and bibliographical information. It has useful cross-references and an alphabetical table of contents. The preface, however, seems incomplete, since its criteria for choosing the autobiographers are unclear. Some entries all but choose themselves (Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Richard Wright); others, while interesting, are not noteworthy (Hilton Als, Janet McDonald). The book expands the knowledge of enthusiasts while opening the door to writers of fiction. Undergraduate, graduate, and public libraries. T. M. Pearson Claflin University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xiii
Elizabeth Laura Adamsp. 1
Hilton Alsp. 5
Maya Angeloup. 10
James Baldwinp. 29
Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)p. 37
Henry Walton Bibbp. 42
Gwendolyn Brooksp. 47
Claude Brownp. 51
William Wells Brownp. 56
Leroy Eldridge Cleaverp. 61
Lucilee Cliftonp. 68
Angela Yvonne Davisp. 73
Lucy A. Delaneyp. 79
Samual R. Delanyp. 83
Toi Derricottep. 90
Frederick Douglassp. 95
W.E.B. Du Boisp. 110
Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelsonp. 119
Zilpha Elawp. 123
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellingtonp. 128
Olaudah Equianop. 132
Julia A.J. Footep. 138
Patrice Gainesp. 143
Henry Louis Gates, Jrp. 147
Nikki Giovannip. 151
Maria Goldenp. 156
Richard "Dick" Claxton Gregoryp. 161
Sutton Elbert Griggsp. 166
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosawp. 171
Juanita Harrisonp. 175
Josiah Hensonp. 179
Chester Bomar Hinesp. 185
Bell Hooksp. 192
Langston Hughesp. 197
Zora Neale Hurstonp. 208
Elizabeth Keckleyp. 220
Jamaica Kincaidp. 225
Jarena Leep. 230
Audre Geraldine Lordep. 236
Malcom Xp. 246
John Marrantp. 255
James McBridep. 259
Nathan J. McCallp. 264
Janet McDonaldp. 270
Claude McKayp. 274
Anne Moodyp. 280
Pauli Murrayp. 286
Solomon Northupp. 290
Gwendolyn M. Parkerp. 295
Eliza C. Potterp. 299
Nancy Gardner Princep. 303
J Saunders Reddingp. 307
Sarah Ricep. 314
Eslanda Goode Robesonp. 319
George Samuel Schuylerp. 323
Maria Seacolep. 328
Brent Staplesp. 333
Maria W. Stewartp. 338
Sojourner Truthp. 344
Nat Turnerp. 351
Gloria Wade-Gaylesp. 355
Alice Walkerp. 360
Booker T. Washingtonp. 365
Ida B. Wells-Barnettp. 373
John Edgar Widemanp. 379
Harriet E. Wilsonp. 386
Richard Wrightp. 391
Selected Bibliographyp. 407
Indexp. 409
About the Editor and Contributorsp. 413