4.3 Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 - March 31, 1797)
"o-lah-oo-day ek-wee-ah-no," according to Suzanne Erera]
HUM 211 Online Course Pack - Winter 2010 
COCC Home > Cora Agatucci Home > Classes > HUM 211 Home > HUM 211 Course Pack > Olaudah Equiano

SHORT CUTS on this web page: Introduction | Summary of Equiano's Story | Read Excerpts from Equiano's Narrative
1789 Review of Equiano's Narrative | Significance of Equiano's Narrative | Works Cited


Who are we looking for, who are we looking for?
It's Equiano we're looking for.
Has he gone to the stream? Let him come back.
Has he gone to the farm? Let him return.
It's Equiano we're looking for.
- Kwa chant about the disappearance of an African boy, Equiano

'This African chant mourns the loss of Olaudah Equiano, an 11-year-old boy and son of an African tribal  leader who was kidnapped in 1755 from his home far from the African coast, in what is now Nigeria. He was one of the 10 to 12 million Africans who were sold into slavery from the 15th through the 19th centuries.  Later Equiano acquired his freedom, and, in 1789, wrote his widely read autobiography:  The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.  'I believe there are few events in my life that have not happened to many,' wrote Equiano in his autobiography.  The 'many' he refers to are free Africans who were kidnapped and enslaved, marched to the coast and sold to European slave traders, died or survived the notorious 'Middle Passage' across the Atlantic Ocean, then sold into slavery to work plantations in South America, the Caribbean and North America."

From "The African Slave Trade and the Middle Passage,"
Narrative 4
[featuring commentary by Chinua Achebe],

Africans in America, Part 1: The Terrible Transformation
(PBS Online, 1999):

"From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, slaves and ex-slaves in the African diaspora, kidnapped in West Africa, shipped across the notorious Middle Passage, and sold into slavery, wrote unflinchingly about their brutal life experiences.  In petitions, poems, fictions, and autobiographies, also known as slave narratives, they recreated their environment and their mature selves as human beings enduring grievous lives, in Britain, the Americas and the Caribbean.  They wrote in conscious opposition to proslavery stereotypes" (Ferguson 238; emphasis added).

See also related reading in HUM 211 Course Pack: African Holocaust & Diaspora

"A member of the Ibo nation [like Chinua Achebe], Equiano was born in the interior of Nigeria.  When he was eleven, he and his sister were captured by slave traders and sold to British slavers bound for North America.  A ship's steward, he served under several Mediterranean commanders and Caribbean traders.  Having been brought to Virginia when he was sold to Michael Henry Pascal, an officer in the Royal Navy, he was renamed Gustavas Vassa, after a sixteenth-century Swedish monarch. After many maritime adventures and a harsh human betrayal, the determined, highly literate Equiano purchased his freedom in 1766 and continued traveling throughout the Caribbean and the American colonies.  Fearing harassment and recapture, he relocated to England where he worked for Dr. Charles Irving, a scientist experimenting with salt-water purification.  Equiano then traveled to Italy, Turkey, Portugal, and the Arctic, and studied opera and architecture.  First published in two volumes, his autobiography entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789), is hailed as one of the finest slave narratives," in which Equiano recounts "his experiences aboard the slave ship, chronicles his mastery of navigation, his naval service in Canada during General Wolfe's campaign, and his labor in the Mediterranean as a gunpowder carrier, this is learning to be a barber while continuing as a sailor to many countries.  With his diverse and unsurpassed talents, he emerged as one of the first community leaders and intellectuals of the age.  Equiano's two-volume autobiography has remained a classic of the slave narrative genre, as well as in the global genre of autobiography" (Ferguson 240-241; emphasis added).

SLAVE NARRATIVE: "A type of narrative written by a former African . . .  slave that typically recounts that individual's life and how he or she managed to escape from . . . [slavery].  Although autobiographical, slave narratives were chiefly intended to convince the reader that slavery needed to be abolished because of its devastating impact on human lives and the human spirit.  Given this overriding social and moral purpose, scholars have debated the extent to which these narratives were strictly autobiographical.  Many have maintained that numerous characters, events, and anecdotes, though based in truth, were often represented in a manner designed to achieve the the most persuasive impact on the reader.  For instance, events could be relayed out of their proper chronological time, and some characters were composites or even based on stereotypes.  The first slave narrative was published in 1760, but the genre was most prominent [in the United States] in the thirty years leading up to the [U.S.] Civil War (1861 - 65), after which slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment" (Murfin and Ray 449).

"The Equiano Portraits"
features "two famous portraits" of Olaudah Equiano (Carey):

"Olaudah Equiano's Travels"
offers a map retracing Equiano's many travels (Carey):

More biographies of Equiano's life:

"Olaudah Equiano: A Critical Biography" (Carey):

"People & Events: Olaudah Equiano, 1745 - 1797" (Africans in America):

Samuels, Wilfred D.  "Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745 - March 31, 1797."  Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 50: Afro-American Writers Before the Harlem Renaissance. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Ed. Trudier Harris, Detroit: The Gale Group, 1986. 123-129. Gale Literature Resource Center [Online Subscription Database]. Gale Group, 2004. Central Oregon Community College Library, Bend, OR. 17 August 2004.
Gale Literature Resource Center subscription database articles are available online to COCC students!!]

READ EXCERPTS from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano . . .

From Ch. 1: Description of Equiano's Early Life and the Culture of his People
Read online one of the first detailed descriptions ever published of a traditional African culture from the perspective of an African, which makes for interesting comparisons to Part I of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

The Life of Olaudah Equiano (British Library: African Collections)  Link broken ~C. Agatucci, 29 Dec. 2009
Extract from: The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself.  
London: Printed for and sold by the author, No. 10, Union-Street, Middlesex Hospital, [1789].
Vol. 1, Chapter 1, pp. 4-38:  http://www.bl.uk/collections/africanolaudah.html Link broken ~C. Agatucci, 29 Dec. 2009

      "My father, besides many slaves, had a numerous family, of which seven lived to grow up, including myself and a sister, who was the only daughter. As I was the youngest of the sons, I became, of course, the greatest favourite of my mother, and was always with her; and she used to take particular pains to form my mind. I was trained up from my earliest years in the arts of agriculture and war; and my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our greatest warriors. In this way I grew up till I was turned the age of eleven, when an end was put to my happiness in the following manner:--Generally, when the grown people in the neighbourhood were gone far in the fields to labour, the children assembled together in some of the neighborhood's premises to play; and commonly some of us used to get up a tree to look out for any assailant, or kidnapper, that might come upon us; for they sometimes took those opportunities of our parents' absence, to attack and carry off as many as they could seize. One day, as I was watching at the top of a tree in our yard, I saw one of those people come into the yard of our next neighbour but one, to kidnap, there being many stout young people in it. Immediately, on this, I gave the alarm of the rogue, and he was surrounded by the stoutest of them, who entangled him with cords, so that he could not escape till some of the grown people came and secured him.
     "But alas! ere long, it was my fate to be thus attacked, and to be carried off, when none of the grown people were nigh. One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night. We were then unbound; but were unable to take any food; and, being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time."
--From Ch. II of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789).
Rpt. Mintz, "A Son of Africa: Resources for Teachers": http://www.newsreel.org/guides/equiano.htm
[Corresponding to sections of 1814 ed. reprinted in Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives p. 25.]

"Olaudah Equiano vividly recounts the shock and isolation that he felt during the Middle Passage to Barbados and his fear that the European slavers would eat him" ("A Son of Africa").
The European slavers' "complexions, differing so much from ours, their long hair and the language they spoke, which was different from any I had ever heard, united to confirm me in this belief [that Equiano "had got into a world of bad spirits and that they were going to kill me"]. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave of my own country. When I looked around the ship and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate. Quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. When I recovered a little, I found some black people about me, and I believe some were those who had brought me on board and had been receiving their pay. They talked to me in order to cheer me up, but all in vain. I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair. They told me I was not . . . . I took a little [wine] down my palate, which, instead of reviving me as they thought it would, threw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted such liquor before.
      "Soon after this, the blacks who had brought me on board went off and left me abandoned to despair.  I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my native country or even the least glimpse of hope of gaining the shore, which I now considered as friendly. I even wished for my former slavery in preference to my present situation, which was filled with horrors of every kind. . . .[Equiano was then "put down under the decks" and ] There I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life. With the loathesomeness of the stench and the crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, Death, to relieve me. Soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands and laid me across the windlass and tied my feet while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced anything of this kind before. . . . If I could have gotten over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not. The crew used to watch very closely those of us who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water. I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This indeed was often the case with myself . . . .  [Meeting some of his countrymen among the chained Africans below decks,] I inquired of these what was to be done with us. They gave me to understand we were to be carried to these white people's country to work for them. I then was a little revived, and thought if it were no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate. But still I feared that I should be put to death, the white people looked and acted in so savage a manner. I have never seen among my people such instances of brutal cruelty, and this not only shown towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves. One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck, flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast that he died in consequence of it, and they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute. This made me fear these people the more, and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. . . . I asked [my countrymen] if these people had no country, but lived in this hollow place [the ship]? They told me they did not but came from a distant land. 'Then,' said I, 'how comes it that in all our country we never heard of them?'  They told me because they lived so far off. I then asked where were their women? Had they any like themselves? I was told they had. 'And why do we not see them' I asked. They answered, 'Because they were left behind.'  I asked how the vessel could go? They told me they could not tell, but there was cloth put upon the masts by the help of the ropes I saw, and then vessels went on, and the white men had some spell or magic they put in the water when they liked in order to stop the vessel when they liked. I was exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they were spirits. I therefore wished much to be from amongst them, for I expected they would sacrifice me. But my wishes were in vain--for we were so quartered that it was impossible for us to make our escape."
     ". . . .At last, when the ship we were in had got in all her cargo, they made ready with many fearful noises, and we were all put under deck, so that we could not see how they managed the vessel. . . . The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time...some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air. But now that the whole ship's cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place and the heat of the climate, added to the number of the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us.  This produced copious perspirations so that the air became unfit for respiration from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died--thus falling victims of the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, which now became insupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs [toilets] into which the children often fell and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable. Happily perhaps for myself, I was soon reduced so low that it was necessary to keep me almost always on deck and from my extreme youth I was not put into fetters. In this situation I expected every hour to share the fate of my companions, some of whom were almost daily brought upon the deck at the point of death, which I began to hope would soon put an end to my miseries. Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every circumstance I met with, served only to render my state more painful and heightened my apprehensions and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites. . . ."
     "One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together (I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea. Immediately another quite dejected fellow, who on account of his illness was suffered to be out of irons, followed their example. I believe many more would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship's crew, who were instantly alarmed. Those of us that were the most active were in a moment put down under the deck, and there was such a noise and confusion among the people of the ship as I never heard before to stop her and get the boat out to go after the slaves. However, two of the wretches were drowned, but they got the other and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery. . . . I can now relate, hardships which are inseparable from this accursed trade. Many a time we were near suffocation from the want of fresh air, which we were often without for whole days together. This, and the stench of the necessary tubs, carried off many."
--From Ch. II of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789).
Rpt. Mintz, "A Son of Africa: Resources for Teachers": http://www.newsreel.org/guides/equiano.htm
[Corresponding to sections of 1814 ed. reprinted in Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives pp.33-34; 35-36.]

Carey also reprints online Extracts from Equiano's Narrative, Ch. 2:
"Boarding a Slave-Ship":
"The Middle Passage": http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/extract3.htm

Olaudah Equiano offers a first-hand account of his arrival in the West Indies in 1756
("A Son of Africa").
[Arrival at "the island of Barbadoes" in the Caribbean:] "As the vessel drew nearer, we plainly saw the harbor and other ships of different kinds and sizes and we soon anchored amongst them off Bridgetown. Many merchants and planters came on board . . . . They put us in separate parcels and examined us attentively. They also made us jump, and pointed to the land, signifying we were to go there. We thought by this we should be eaten by these ugly men, as they appeared to us. When soon after we were all put down under the deck again, there was much dread and trembling among us and nothing but bitter cries to be heard all the night from the apprehensions. At last the white people got some old slaves from the land to pacify us. They told us we were not to be eaten, but to work, and were soon to go on land, where we should see many of our country people. This report eased us much, and sure enough, soon after we landed, there came to us Africans of all languages.
     "We were conducted immediately to the merchant's yard, where we were all pent up together, like so many sheep in a fold, without regard to sex or age. As every object was new to me, everything I saw filled me with surprise. What struck me first was that the houses were built with bricks and stories, and in every respect different from those I had seen in Africa, but I was still more astonished to see people on horseback. I did not know what this could mean, and indeed I thought these people were full of nothing but magical arts. While I was in this astonishment, one of my fellow prisoners spoke to a countryman of his about the horses who said they were the same kind they had in their country. I understood them, though they were from a distant part of Africa and I thought it odd I had not seen any horses there; but afterwards when I came to converse with different Africans, I found they had many horses amongst them, and much larger than those I then saw.
     "We were not many days in the merchant's custody, before we were sold after their usual manner . . . On a signal given, (as the beat of a drum), buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make a choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamor with which this is attended, and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase the apprehension of terrified Africans . . .  . In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over...there were several brothers who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion, to see and hear their cries in parting."
--From Ch. II of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789).
Rpt. Mintz, "A Son of Africa: Resources for Teachers": http://www.newsreel.org/guides/equiano.htm
[Corresponding to sections of 1814 ed. reprinted in Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives pp.37-38.]

At this point in Ch. 2 of the Narrative, Equiano passionately addresses his European enslavers:
"O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, 'learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?  Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends, to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice?  Are the dearest friends and relations now rendered more dear by their separation from the rest of their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery, with the samll comfort of being together, and mingling their sufferings and sorrows?  Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives?  Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery."
--From Ch. II of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African, 1814 ed. as reprinted in Gates, The Classic Slave Narratives p. 38.

Read all of Chapter 2 of Equiano's Autobiography online
courtesy of Africans in America (WGBH/PBS Online):

"The Abuse of Slaves in the West Indies"
Read Ch. 5 excerpt from "Olaudah Equiano: The Life of Gustavus Vassa"
courtesy of World Civilizations (Washington State Univ., 1996, 1999):
More selections, also available on the Washington State Univ. web,
courtesy of
Reading About the World, Vol. 2; ed. Paul Brians and others, Harcourt Brace Custom Books:

"Equiano Gains his Freedom"
Read Ch. 7 excerpt, courtesy of Brycchan Carey:
". . . Equiano's account of his own manumission in 1766. Equiano's owner, the Philadelphia Quaker Robert King, had in 1765 promised Equiano that he could buy back his own freedom if he ever raised the sum of forty pounds, the price King had himself paid for Equiano. King, who conducted much of his business from the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean Leeward Islands, put Equiano to work on one of his ships. Fortunately for Equiano, this meant that he could earn the money by petty trading, an activity in which he received some encouragement from the ship's 'friendly captain'; Thomas Farmer" (Carey).

"The Case Against the Slave Trade"
Read Ch. 12 excerpt, courtesy of Brycchan Carey:
". . . Equiano's arguments against the slave trade, in particular, his argument that the trade did not make sound economic sense" (Carey).

A 1789 REVIEW of Equiano's Narrative

From the beginning, The Interesting Narrative of the Life  of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African. Written by Himself was a bestseller, in such demand that it experienced some fifteen editions, and attracted reviews in the leading journals of the time. One favorable 1789 review that appeared in London's The Monthly Review is reprinted here:

       “We entertain no doubt of the general authenticity of this very intelligent African's interesting story [The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African]; though it is not improbable that some English writer has assisted him in the compilement, or, at least, the correction of his book: for it is sufficiently well written.  The narrative wears an honest face: and we have conceived a good opinion of the man, from the artless manner in which he has detailed the variety of adventures and vicissitudes which have fallen to his lot.  His publication appears very seasonably, at a time when negroe-slavery is the subject of public investigation; and it seems calculated to increase the odium that hath been excited against the West-India planters, on account of the cruelties that some of them are said to have exercised on their slaves; many instances of which are here detailed. 
       “The sable author of these volumes appears to be a very sensible man; and he is, surely, not the less worthy of credit from being a convert to Christianity.  He is a Methodist; and has filled many pages, toward the end of his work, with accounts of his dreams, visions, and divine impulses; but all this, supposing him to have been under any delusive influence, only serves to convince us that he is guided by principle; and that he is not one of those poor converts who, having undergone the ceremony of baptism, have remained content with that portion, only, of the Christian Religion: instances of which are said to be almost innumerable in America, and the West-Indies; Gustavus Vassa appears to possess a very different character; and, therefore, we heartily wish success to his publication, which we are glad to see has been encouraged by a very respectable subscription.”

"A Review of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African."  The Monthly Review [London] Vol.  LXXX, 1789, p.  55152.  Gale Literature Resource Center [Online Subscription Database]. The Gale Group, 2004. Central Oregon Community College Library, Bend, OR. 17 August 2004.
[NOTE: Gale Literature Resource Center subscription database articles are available online to COCC students!!]

Among aspects of the above 1789 review to notice, is the fact that the anonymous reviewer addresses the question of the "authenticity" of Equiano's "very intelligent" Narrative, suggesting "that some English writer" may have assisted Equiano in the "compilement, or, at least, the correction of his book: for it is sufficiently well written."


"The slave narrative is a polemical genre; it makes no bones about it."
--Anthony Appiah, quoted in Ferguson (249).

Brycchan Carey outlines the political goals of Equiano's slave narrative in "Olaudah Equiano: A Critical Biography": http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/biog.htm
According to Carey, to show that a black African had abilities equal to a white European is one implicit political goal encompassed by Equiano's statement early in his autobiography:

"'If it affords any satisfaction to my numerous friends, at whose request it has been written, or in the smallest degree promotes the interest of humanity, the ends for which it was undertaken will be fully attained, and every wish of my heart gratified.'

When Equiano refers to 'humanity' he seems to have several things in mind. Firstly he of course means that slavery is inhumane in that it is a cruel business resulting in a great deal of human misery. He is calling for its abolition. But as well as the overt anti-slavery agenda there is a more subtle anti-racist project going on to dispel some of the racist myths current in eighteenth-century England. Amongst these was an increasingly widespread myth that Africans were either not fully human or were of a less developed branch of humanity. Part of Equiano's project is to dispel this myth entirely by showing the world that he, in common with all human beings, is quite capable of writing a fine book describing a life which would be considered extraordinary and full of talent and seized opportunity regardless of the racial origins of the person who had lived it.

In this respect, we can say that the project of writing autobiography is, in Equiano's case, a strongly political act. Indeed, the book is a rather special sort of autobiography: a black self-representation. In this period this is in itself somewhat unusual, but the work is also an account of the life of a former slave, a particular genre which is known as a 'slave narrative'. By 1789 a very small number of these had already appeared, mostly oral accounts spoken by a slave or former slave and taken down and published by white amanuenses (although a famous exception to this is the Thoughts on Slavery published in 1788 by Equiano's friend Quobna Ottobah Cugoano). But Equiano's narrative was very different from most of those that had gone before. Not only had he written it himself, but he had also published it himself, by subscription, a method which involved getting people to put the money up front. He managed to convince many very important people to pay in advance for his book, a list which starts with the Prince of Wales and includes no less than eight dukes. Equiano's book is different in another way too. Equiano did not just publish the book and leave it to fend for itself. Instead, he vigorously promoted it by going on lecture tours around England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and by promoting his book he was also promoting the idea of abolition of slavery. Indeed, it was local abolition committees who arranged the lectures and readings at which he was present. During the early 1790s, then, Equiano had not just turned his life story into a document opposing slavery, but had transformed his entire life into a sort of anti-slavery document.

In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Wilfred D. Samuels summarizes the literary critical importance of Equiano's Narrative:

According to critic Paul Edwards, Equiano’s Narrative is "the most remarkable of the 18th century" books by black writers.  Vernon Loggins agrees: "At the time it was published, in 1789, few books had been produced in America which afford such vivid, concrete, and picaresque narrative." After noting that the slave narrative provides the "spirit and vitality and the angle of vision responsible for the most effective prose writing by Black Americans," Arna Bontemps, in his introduction to Great Slave Narratives (1969), called Equiano's work "the first truly notable book in the genre" of the slave narrative.  Equiano’s narrative establishes an important model as one of the first records to shape the experiences of the black African diaspora during slavery. Like the modern alienated hero in black fiction, Equiano remains above all in his narrative an exile. In his response to life, Equiano epitomizes the black fictional character whose quest is for wholeness and meaning in a world that often does not offer fulfillment.

For Africans in America, Part I, Catherine Ancholou (English Professor, Awuku College of Education, Nigeria) sums up Equiano's significance:

Well, for people in Africa, Equiano's narrative is very important because it is the anchor of African studies. In every discipline, you study Equiano. Historians begin with Equiano. Social scientists begin with Equiano. Literary artists and literary scholars begin with Equiano. Equiano makes it impossible for you to forget the issue of slavery and the fact that we have millions and millions of our brothers and sisters who are now no longer part of us, but who have now gone through this experience of slavery, who have now become part of another culture, but who are equally part of us, and who are yearning to connect. Equiano's story, more than any other story, carries that authenticity, that impetus and that imperative to connect, to not forget, to remember, and to take responsibility for the actions of our forefathers.
Resource Bank for Africans in America, Part 1: The Terrible Transformation (WGHB, PBS Online 1999):

Learn more from "The Slave Narrative":
and "Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) (c. 1745-1797)":
Donna M. Campbell (Gonzaga Univ.), Literary Movements. 2003.

Works Cited

Africans in America, Part 1: The Terrible Transformation. Resource Bank. WGBH, PBS Online, 1999. 17 August 2004 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1h320t.html>.

Africans in America Home (WBGH/PBS Online): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html
. . . Terrible Transformation, Part I Home: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/title.html
. . . Terrible Transformation, Part I Narrative: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/narrative.html

Carey, Brycchan (Senior Lecturer in English literature, Kingston Univ., Surrey, UK). Olaudah Equiano, or, Gustavus Vassa, the African.  2000-2003. 17 August 2004 <http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/index.htm>.

Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation Home: http://www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/index.htm

Erera, Suzanne. "The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano."  Student Project for Prof. William Howarth's AMS 304, Princeton Univ., Spring 1997. 17 August 2004 <http://www.princeton.edu/~howarth/304.Projects/Erera/Pages/Main.htm>.

Ferguson, Moira.  "The Literature of Slavery and Abolition." The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature, Vol. 1.  Ed. F. Abiola Erele and Simon Gikandi.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.  238-254.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed.  The Classic Slave Narratives. New York: Mentor-Penguin, 1987.
From "A Note on the Texts": "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa is reprinted here from the 1814 edition published by J. Nichols at Leeds" (516), on pp. 1-182 in The Classic Slave Narratives.]

Mintz, Steven (Univ. of Houston). "A Son of Africa: Resources for Teachers." [Online Facilitator Guide.]  California Newreel.  17 August 2004 <http://www.newsreel.org/guides/equiano.htm>.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2003.

"A Review of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African."  The Monthly Review [London] Vol.  LXXX, 1789, p.  55152.  Gale Literature Resource Center [Online Subscription Database]. The Gale Group, 2004. Central Oregon Community College Library, Bend, OR. 17 August 2004.
[NOTE: Gale Literature Resource Center subscription database articles are available online to COCC students!!]

Samuels, Wilfred D.  "Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745 - March 31, 1797."  Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 50: Afro-American Writers Before the Harlem Renaissance. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Ed. Trudier Harris, Detroit: The Gale Group, 1986. 123-129. Gale Literature Resource Center [Online Subscription Database]. The Gale Group, 2004. Central Oregon Community College Library, Bend, OR. 17 August 2004.
[NOTE: Gale Literature Resource Center subscription database articles are available online to COCC students!!]

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