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Teaching Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative

Pedagogical Strategies and New Perspectives

Eric D. Lamore

Publication Year: 2012

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself (1789) is one of the most frequently and heatedly discussed texts in the canon of eighteenth-century transatlantic literature written in English. Equiano’s Narrative contains an engrossing account of the author’s experiences in Africa, the Americas, and Europe as he sought freedom from bondage and became a leading figure in the abolitionist movement. While scholars have approached this sophisticated work from diverse critical and historical/biographical perspectives, there has been, until now, little written about the ways in which it can be successfully taught in the twenty-first-century classroom.
    In this collection of essays, most of them never before published, sixteen teacher-scholars focus explicitly on the various classroom contexts in which the Narrative can be assigned and various pedagogical strategies that can be used to help students understand the text and its complex cultural, intellectual, literary, and historical implications. The contributors explore topics ranging from the religious dimensions of Equiano’s rhetoric and controversies about his origins, specifically whether he was actually born in Africa and endured the Middle Passage, to considerations of the Narrative’s place in American Literature survey courses and how it can be productively compared to other texts, including captivity narratives and modern works of fiction. They not only suggest an array of innovative teaching models but also offer new readings of the work that have been overlooked in Equiano studies and Slavery studies. With these two dimensions, this volume will help ensure that conversations over Equiano’s eighteenth-century autobiography remain relevant and engaging to today’s students.

ERIC D. LAMORE is an assistant professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. A contributor to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poets and Poetry, he is also the coeditor, with John C. Shields, of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley.


Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-xi

On 9 February 2009 Westminster Abbey commemorated with a plaque the 250th anniversary of the baptism of Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano) in St. Margaret’s Church. He was the first, and remains the only, person of African descent to receive that honor from the Abbey. Westminster Abbey’s decision to...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am grateful to Scot Danforth, director of the University of Tennessee Press, for expressing interest in this volume, to Kerry Webb, acquisitions editor at the University of Tennessee Press, for all of her generous time, and to Gene Adair, manuscript editor at the press, for his careful work on the book. The press found two...

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Introduction

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pp. xv-xxix

Critical readings of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself far outweigh analyses that examine the teaching of this eighteenth-century text. Currently, teacher-scholars have access to scholarly essays that focus on the authenticity of the author’s African...

Part 1. Foundational Discussions on Teaching The Interesting Narrative

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History, Oratory, and God in Equiano’s Interesting Narrative

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pp. 3-23

Increasingly, college students are coming into contact with at least parts of the work generally recognized as the capstone of eighteenth-century black writing—The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. In doing so, they are rediscovering a work that once...

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Equiano Lite

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pp. 25-31

In Adam Potkay’s essay, a vehemence about the importance of rhetoric in Equiano’s Interesting Narrative is combined with a new twist on academic antiintellectualism, whereby “a group of sceptical twenty-year-olds” is wheeled out to battle against “postcolonial theory’s effort at refashioning Equiano in its own image...

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Domesticating Equiano’s Interesting Narrative

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pp. 33-41

“The eighteenth century as a whole remains obstinately out of fashion,” Pat Rogers lamented in the 1970s (ix). Over a decade later, that sentiment was the rallying cry of Felicity Nussbaum’s and Laura Brown’s The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature (1987). Arguing that resistance to contemporary theory...

Part 2. Special Topics in Teaching The Interesting Narrative

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Olaudah Equiano, Autobiography, and Ideas of Culture

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pp. 45-68

In a debate published in Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2001, Adam Potkay, Srinivas Aravamudan, and Roxann Wheeler heatedly disagree regarding the way in which The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano should be framed for students. Potkay, coeditor with Sandra Burr of the volume Black Atlantic Writers of the Eighteenth...

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Flat Equiano: A Transatlantic Approach to Teaching The Interesting Narrative

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pp. 69-93

In a 2001 forum on teaching The Interesting Narrative, Roxann Wheeler emphasizes the need to contextualize Equiano’s work within its historical and political milieus. Arguing against approaches to the narrative that focus exclusively on eighteenth-century investments in oration and spiritual autobiography, Wheeler...

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Finding a Home for Equiano

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pp. 95-117

What is the appropriate context to teach Equiano?1 Part of the challenge and joy of reading and teaching the Narrative lies in finding the right course for it. I have taught or studied Equiano in a number of different courses, from Romantic Autobiography, Introduction to Africana Studies, Eighteenth-Century Black British...

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Loving the Unstable Text and Times of Equiano’s Narrative: Using Carretta’s Biography in the Classroom

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pp. 119-136

When it came out, Vincent Carretta’s Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man prompted news reports attempting to make sense of an academic controversy for non-academic readers. Headlines such as the Guardian’s “Author casts shadow over slave hero” (Younge) or the Washington Times’s “New biography...

Part 3. Pedagogy, African American Studies, and The Interesting Narrative

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When Young Minds Read Equiano’s Narrative

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pp. 139-152

It is unlikely that present-day students will voluntarily pick up and read Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative. The autobiographer’s names of Olaudah Equiano and Gustavus Vassa not only look strange, but their pronunciations are also difficult to figure out without some instructional aid. Added to this difficult start is the...

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“Profitable Reading”: Literacy, Christianity, and Constitutionalism in Olaudah Equiano’s 'Interesting Narrative

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pp. 153-169

College students of the early twenty-first century will benefit from examining Olaudah Equiano’s 'Interesting Narrative as a coming-of-age and coming-to-influence story of the late eighteenth century. As our students read in Afro-British and African American topics, we can show young men and young women how...

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Equiano and One Canon of Early African American Literature

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pp. 171-189

The critically informed university teacher of Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative faces or will face what is the deepest and most threatening impasse today in the field of literary studies. On the one hand, the black studies movement of the 1960s generated a set of influential critical paradigms that stressed the adversarial relationship...

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Metaphysics of Presence in Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative

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pp. 191-212

This essay is an attempt to deal with two related issues that occur frequently when literature teachers find themselves teaching a text containing a significant amount of religious content. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself is one of the most important pieces...

Part 4. Pedagogy, American Studies, and The Interesting Narrative

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“Neither a Saint, a Hero, Nor a Tyrant”: Teaching Equiano Comparatively

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pp. 215-238

I posed this question to my Early American Literature survey class, feeling somewhat bad for opening the day’s discussion with such an obviously leading question. My students stared back at me, testing the silence to see if I would eventually break down and give them the answer they assumed I was looking for....

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Equiano’s Interesting Narrative and the Difficulties of Teaching the Early American Literature Survey Course

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pp. 239-253

The undergraduate early American literature class poses unique problems for a professor teaching within the conventional literary historical periods: the era is not particularly “early” in relation to the British and European literature to which students have been exposed; the “American” designation is dubious for many...

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The Difference Teaching Equiano Makes: Notes on Teaching The Interesting Narrative in the Undergraduate American Literature Survey

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pp. 255-273

Given this emphasis on personal narratives, we use online editions of texts and smaller anthologies, such as Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s The Classic Slave Narratives and William L. Andrews, Sargent Bush Jr., Annette Kolodny, Amy Schrager Lang, and Daniel B. Shea’s Journeys in New Worlds: Early American Women’s...

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Captives, Slaves, and Writers: Teaching The Narrative of Olaudah Equiano as Captivity Narrative

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pp. 275-292

The 1789 publication of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa (hereafter Equiano’s Narrative) introduced an important player in the abolition movement taking place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the late eighteenth century. For the first time, abolitionists hoping to outlaw the...

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Transatlantic Transformations: Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative and Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge

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pp. 293-311

Some readers have established parallels between The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself and Caryl Phillips’s novel Cambridge.1 These comparative readings, however, reflect a need to examine further this intertextual relationship. These readers of Equiano’s and Phillips’s...

Contributors

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pp. 313-317

Index

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pp. 319-328


E-ISBN-13: 9781572339262
E-ISBN-10: 1572339268
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338685
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338687

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Equiano, Olaudah, b. 1745. Interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano.
  • African literature (English) -- Study and teaching.
  • Slave narratives -- History and criticism.
  • Slavery in literature.
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