In this perceptive exploration of the relationship between autobiography and fiction in African-American writing, Valerie Smith argues that black writers—from the authors of nineteenth-century slave narratives to contemporary novelists—affirm and legitimize their psychological autonomy by telling the stories of their lives. Focusing on autobiographies by Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs and on the fiction of James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison, Smith demonstrates the ways in which the act of narrating constitutes an act of self-fashioning that must be understood in the context of the African-American experience. Hers is a fertile investigation, attuned to the differences in male and female sensibilities, and attentive to the importance of oral traditions.
An excellent analysis of the relationship of form to content, of the question of self-definition through shaping language to tell one’s own story and create one’s own space in a situation of the oppression of black Americans.
A major contribution to the field of Afro-American literary criticism. Smith’s discussion of the nineteenth-century slave narrative is excellent.