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New Scholarship: Johnson's "Autobiography"

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson; Jacqueline Goldsby, Editor

Known only as the “Ex-Colored Man,” the protagonist in Johnson’s novel is forced to choose between celebrating his African American heritage or “passing” as an average white man in a post-Reconstruction America that is rapidly changing. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the 1912 text. It is accompanied by a detailed introduction, explanatory footnotes, and a note on the text. The appendices that follow the novel include materials available in no other edition: manuscript drafts of the final chapters, including the original lynching scene (chapter 10, ca. 1910) and the original ending (chapter 11, ca. 1908).

An unusually rich selection of “Backgrounds and Sources” focuses on Johnson’s life; the autobiographical inspirations for The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; the cultural history of the era in which Johnson lived and wrote; the noteworthy reception history for the 1912, 1927, and 1948 editions; and related writings by Johnson. In addition to Johnson, contributors include Eugene Levy, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcy A. Sacks, Carl Van Vechten, Blanche W. Knopf, Victor Weybright, and Cecile Fishbein, among others.

The seven critical essays and interpretations in this volume speak to The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man’s major themes, among them irony, authorship, passing, and parody. Early assessments (1930s–70s) are provided by Robert A. Bone, Robert Fleming, and Robert B. Stepto. Recent contributors are Jacqueline Goldsby, Samira Kawash, Christina L. Ruotolo, and M. Giulia Fabi.

A chronology of Johnson’s life and work and a selected bibliography are also included.

For more information about this edition: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson, editied by Jacqueline Goldsby

Related Resources at Beinecke Library

Guide to the James Weldon and Grace Nail Johnson Papers

James Weldon and Grace Nail Johnson Papers Image Guide

African American Studies at Beinecke Library

 

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