Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> Slave Narratives >> Scholarly Bibliography >> Alphabetical List, Chronological List >> Autobiographies listed Alphabetically, Autobiographies listed Chronologically >> Introduction to the Autobiographies
Slave Narratives Header
Amanda Smith  Booker T. Washington  Title Page from A Narrative of Events Since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams  Hallie Q. Brown  Portrait of Omar ibn Said 

Introduction to the Autobiographies included in this Scholarly Bibliography

This bibliography enumerates all separately published autobiographical texts in English produced by slaves or former slaves. Regardless of the degree to which a narrative may discuss slavery, if that narrative was written or dictated by someone who was born a slave or who experienced enslavement, that text is included in the following bibliography. "Separately published" texts are those that were independently published. They are titles that appeared between their own covers as independent entities, not as part of a larger whole. Separately published titles range in length from eighteenth-century broadsides to multi-volume autobiographies. A few short autobiographies that were published as introductions to books, such as The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, the Colored Bard of North Carolina, to Which Is Prefixed the Life of the Author (1845), are included in this bibliography in the interest of informing readers of the existence of these unique autobiographical accounts. Autobiographical writings, including personal essays and interviews, that were published in periodicals are not listed in this bibliography except for three lengthy and historically important narratives that were serially published: the autobiographies of John S. Jacobs, George L. Knox, and William Parker. Oral histories, such as those collected by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, and other interviews or correspondence collected in books or periodicals are not included in this bibliography. The most complete collection of the WPA oral histories is The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, edited by George P. Rawick, 17 volumes (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1972); on the World Wide Web see Unpublished autobiographical sources, such as diaries, letters, or journals, are not listed in this bibliography.

This bibliography does not offer an accounting of every edition, reprinting, or translation of the autobiographies of slaves or ex-slaves. Some famous slave narratives, such as those by Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, Harriet Jacobs, and Booker T. Washington, have gone through so many reprintings and translations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that it is virtually impossible to record them all. This bibliography lists first editions of autobiographies by slaves or ex-slaves. It also lists later editions that represent substantial revision or expansion of an original text and translations of autobiographical texts.

The conditions under which a significant number of slave narratives were written and published make distinguishing between autobiographies and biographies especially problematic. A large number of such narratives were described, often in their titles, as "related" or "dictated" by a slave or former slave to an amanuensis, who, whether named or not in the text, might also be termed an "editor" of the text as well. Sometimes these amanuenses and editors scrupulously documented their roles in the transcription of the text of a slave or ex-slave. Frequently, however, it is difficult to reconstruct the exact role and status of slave or ex-slave narrators in the production of the "dictated" or "edited" narratives that bear their names. Although a few "edited" autobiographies of slaves or former slaves may have been actually ghostwritten by their editors, this bibliography does not attempt to determine the degree of authorship for the subject or the editor of any slave or ex-slave autobiography. Whether a slave or ex-slave dictated or wrote an autobiography, whether that text was transcribed or edited by another, this bibliography treats the slave or ex-slave who is represented as the "I" who narrates the events of his or her life as the author of that life story. For more information on the roles of editors and amanuenses in the production of slave narratives, see William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (1986).

This scholarly bibliography is presented in traditional alphabetical order, and also in chronological order so that scholars may observe the publication history of the slave narrative genre.

Consult Professor Andrews' Bibliography of Slave and Ex-Slave Narratives