Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man by Vincent Carretta (buy)
This definitive biography tells the story of the former slave Olaudah Equiano (1745-97), who in his day was the English-speaking world’s most renowned person of African descent. Equiano’s greatest legacy is his classic 1789 autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. A key document of the early movement to ban the slave trade, it includes the earliest known firsthand description by a slave of the horrific Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Equiano, the African is filled with fresh revelations about this many-sided figure—most notably that Equiano may have been born not in Africa, as he claimed, but in South Carolina.
For Vincent Carretta, such disconnects between the public persona and actual life of Equiano only increase his importance as a window into a number of complex, overlapping worlds. Equiano was a sailor, adventurer, entrepreneur, and jack-of-all-trades. Carretta distills years of scholarly detective work on Equiano’s life and writings into a richly textured portrait of the man whose many transformations took him from slave to slave trader to anti-slave-trade advocate, and from pagan to Christian.
This is “life and times” history at its best. Throughout, Carretta relates The Interesting Narrative to the historical record on Equiano, as well as to the century’s economic, political, and religious undercurrents. Carretta argues that Equiano may have fabricated his African roots and his survival of the Middle Passage not only to sell more copies of his book but also to help advance the movement against the slave trade. Equiano, the African will leave readers with a fuller appreciation of the man’s achievements and a deeper understanding of race and slavery in the Atlantic world.