The Norton Critical Edition of this influential Harlem Renaissance novel includes related materials available in no other edition.
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.
With the possible exceptions of Dr. Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois, no African American excelled on as many different levels as James Weldon Johnson. Along This Way
--the first autobiography by a person of color to be reviewed in The New York Times
--not only chronicles his life as an educator, lawyer, diplomat, newspaper editor, lyricist, poet, essayist, and political activist but also outlines the trials and triumphs of African Americans from post-Reconstruction to the rise and fall of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Florida in 1871 to middle-class West Indian parents, Johnson recognized the challenges and absurdities of segregated America early on. But it was his experience as a tutor to rural blacks while a student at Atlanta University that was to alter the course of his life: "It was this period that marked the beginning of psychological change from boyhood to manhood," he writes. "It was this period that marked also the beginning of my knowledge of my own people as a race."
With a rare blend of pride and humility, Johnson recounts how he, among other accomplishments, became Florida's first black lawyer in 1898, a diplomat in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and lyricist for his brother Rosamond Johnson's famous song, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Johnson's commentary on his epochal novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, as well as writings on his works of poetry--The Creation, God's Trombones, and Fifty Years and Other Poems--is priceless. Equally important are the logical and even-tempered opinions on race that he wrote for The New York Age, which offered comprehensive critiques of Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey, along with his analysis of the racial climate while serving as head of the NAACP. This remarkable man left a mark on the 20th century that goes beyond the boundary of race. --Eugene Holley Jr.