Our Nig: Or, Sketches From the Life of a Free Black

Slave Narratives and American Biographies: One in the Same College

For centuries, slave narratives have been ignored by literary scholars and historians, and according the John Sekora, it wasn’t until the era after World War II that historians reevaluated their position on these early examples of African American literature (Sekora 482). Until that point, these narratives were “disclaimed as misleading, inaccurate, or tainted,”—somehow unworthy of being taken seriously (Sekora 482). Contemporary historians have scrutinized these narratives, and as Sekora notes, the slave narratives’ “factual validity and authenticity” have been proven (Sekora 483).

In Sekora’s essay, “Black Message/White Envelope: Genre, Authenticity, and Authority in the Antebellum Slave Narrative,” he argues that slave narratives aren’t truly a subgenre of autobiography due to the circumstances in which they were written. His arguments have been evaluated by Robert S. Levine, who responded with an essay titled “The slave narrative and the revolutionary tradition of American autobiography.” In this essay, Levine refuses this definition of slave narratives, raising critical questions raised by Sekora’s argument.

I agree with Levine’s argument that the literary tradition of slave narratives should fall into the category of...

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