An introductory essay provides a theoretical framework for the chapters that follow. It discusses the origins of African American autobiography and the larger themes of the epic tradition that are common to the works of both black and white authors. The book then pairs representative African American autobiographies with similar works by white writers. Thus the volume matches Olaudah Equiano's slave narrative with The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave with Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl with Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall. The study indicates that these various works all recognize the importance of learning as a means for attaining freedom. The final chapter provides a broad survey of the African American autobiography.
This book examines the central role of marriage in The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave (1849) and Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860). Bibb's slave wife and child account for significant innovations in the form and content of his narrative, while the Crafts' mutual dependence as a married couple results in a sustained use of dramatic irony. The volume closes by offering a thoughtful consideration of the influence of Bibb and the Crafts on the later fiction of Douglass, William Wells Brown, and Martin Delany. In doing so, it invites a critical reexamination of current assumptions about slave narratives.
Richardson has even been neglected by the scholarly community. This critical biography, the first extensive consideration of his life and work, firmly reestablishes his pioneering role in American theater. The book begins with a detailed chronology, followed by a thoughtful biographical essay. The volume then examines the nature of African-American drama in the 1920s, the period during which Richardson was most productive, and it analyzes his approach to drama as a means of educating African-American audiences. It then explores the African-American community as the central theme in Richardson's plays, for Richardson typically looks at the consequences of refusals by blacks to help one another. The work additionally considers Richardson's history plays, his anthologies, his dramas intended for black children, and his essays. A concluding chapter summarizes his lasting influence; the book closes with a listing of his plays and an extensive bibliography.