Equiano, the African
Biography of a Self-Made Man

Vincent Carretta

An epic of slavery, freedom, and the will to succeed


"A remarkable man has been blessed with a superbly qualified biographer. Carretta knows more about Equiano than anyone alive, has carefully and respectfully edited his work, has boldly raised tantalizing questions about his origins, and has meticulously tracked down information about him that no one else has found. This book will be the authoritative source about Equiano's life for many years to come."
—Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves

"This biography provides an accurate, fair-minded, reliable, and engagingly written account of the life of the man whom Carretta describes justifiably as 'the most famous person of African descent in the Atlantic world.' In this rewarding study, Carretta invests the large store of erudition he has amassed from many years of assiduous study of Equiano's life and times. I know of no scholar who is as steeped in Equiano and no one who has done more to restore Equiano and his literary work to serious scholarly consideration."
—William L. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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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.

Page count: 464 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $41.95

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Vincent Carretta, professor of English at the University of Maryland, is currently a senior fellow at Harvard University’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. His books include scholarly editions of the works of Equiano and of Equiano’s contemporaries Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, and Phillis Wheatley.