annotated bibliography
of recent scholarly work on Olaudah Equiano

compiled by tkc


Murphy, Geraldine. "Olaudah Equiano: Accidental Tourist." Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.4 (1994): 551-68

Equiano, the travelee ripped from his family and culture and westernized perforce, becomes a traveler himself when he grows up, observing Europe and other continents just as Europeans had observed Africa. Equiano's journey from "accidental tourist" to "dissident colonialist" is a remarkable achievement. His decision to continue his travels, to gaze at the west as Europeans had gazed at Africa, may have have engaged him in the imperialist project despite himself, but it also opened up European identity to question in ways the west hadn't bargained for . . .

Francis, Elman V. "Olaudah Equiano: A Profile." Negro History Bulletin 44.2 (June 1981): 31, 43-44

Olaudah Equiano's autobiography reads like an epic . . . . his perseverance and hard work in improving himself and helping his own people will never be forgotten.

Marren, Susan. "Between Slavery and Freedom: The Transgressive Self in Olaudah Equiano's Autobiography." PMLA 108 (1993): 94-105.

The conflict that Equiano wrestles within the Life—between his commitment to sepaking as an African for his fellow Africans and the necessity of speaking as a white Englishman to make himself credible in eighteenth-century England—is transcended by the autobiographical I.

Potkay, Adam. "Olaudah Equiano and the Art of Spiritual Autobiography." Eighteenth-Century Studies (Summer 1994): 677-92.

[Equiano's life] begins as Eboe-Hebrew pastoral, falls into Egyptian bondage and the desire for revenge, and ends up a divine comedy, closing on a Pisgah-sight of the spiritual Canaan. His final home, in the Interesting Narrative, is thus Christianity and its exegetical methods: methods that allow him to read his life as a progress, without closing off the paths that circle back to where he began.

Chinosole. "Tryin' to Get Over: Narrative Posture in Equiano's Autobiography." The Art of Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory. Ed. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner. Macomb: Western Illinois UP, 1982.45-54.

Equiano's narrative posture can be described as "guerilla tactics" in tryin' to get over. HIs candid and complex method of narration shows the psychological horror of slavery and racism, but even more strongly asserts the buoyancy of self-regeneration. His contradictions are many but paradigmatic of his time; his hard-earned insights demand respect. Relentlessly unfolding his inner life and shrewdly observing his outer world Equiano's affirmations on behalf of an oppressed group earn him the title, "guerilla fighter." "Gorilla tactics" in tryin' to get over identifies the mimetic function of Equiano's narrative posture: shifts in points of view, resulting in multiple uses of voice to expose layers of underlying irony, which are controlled and uncontrolled, conscious and unconscious. Aesthetically and politically, irony serves to unconver personal ambivalence and social contradictions, brushing against and laying bare the dominant ideologies of his day.

Harris, Sharon M. "Early American Slave Narratives and the Reconfiguration of Place." Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas 21 (October 1990): 15-23.

In Equiano's narrative, one of the earliest of the more than six thousand known American slave narratives and one of the most popular in the eighteenth century, he re-places his African heritage onto American soil. THe result of his being kidnapped is a movement through various alien territories which continually forces him to redefine the meaning of place for a slave.

Orban, Katalin. "Dominant and Submerged Discourses in The LIfe of Olaudah Equiano (or Gustavus Vasssa?)." African American Review 27.4 (1993): 655-664.

Although Equiano's embrace of Christianity and Englishness is certainly not whole-hearted, it should be taken more seriously than the current critical debate seems to allow.

Mtubani, Victor. "The Black in Eighteenth-Century Britain: African Writers Against Slavery and the Slave Trade." Phylon 45.2 (June 1984): 85-97.

A study of abolition in the second half of the eighteenth century should treat seriously the large contributions made by Africans in England. It usually has been the tendency to view Africans in England as mere spectators of their own fate.

Constanzo, Angelo. Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. New York: Greenwood P., 1987. (In particular, Chapter 4: The Spiritual Autobiograpy and Slave Narrative of Olaudah Equiano. 41-90.

Equiano is intellligent, clever, and complex. By making the most of even the slightest opportunities, he achieves numerous roles of authority. In these roles, he works toward both short-term and long-term goals: he does what he can for the immediate comfort of those in slavery, and he battles for their ultimate freedom, using whatever appeals—humanitarian, religious, or economic—will serve his end. To read his story is to be reminded sharply once more of the enormous social waste that marked the long history of slavery—and of the indomitable spirit of those who refused to be defeated.

Samuels, Wilfred D. "Disguised Voice in The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African." Black American Literature Forum 19 (1985): 64-69.

Equiano's self-portraiture contains ironic and metaphoric values which upon examination reveal the dual nature of the thematics and characterization of his narrative. Fundamentally, it reveals that in his efforts to build subjectivity in a world of reification, Equiano reclaims his voice by masking and disguising it.


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