Two centuries after the first autobiography by an enslaved African was published in London, black British authors revisit the historical issue of slavery by imagining the life stories of (former) slaves. They develop the African American genre of the neo-slave narrative by focusing on Britain’s involvement in slavery as well as on the importance of slave authorship to the historical emancipation process and the present-day ‘rememory’ of slavery. Framed by a synoptic review of the politics and aesthetics of the slave and neo-slave narrative and a preamble discussion of J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, this article discusses the metafictional emphasis on slave authorship in Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge, one of Britain’s pioneering neo-slave narratives, and in two more recent examples produced in the context of the 2007 commemorations of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade: Jackie Kay’s poetical radio-play The Lamplighter and Andrea Levy’s metafictional novel The Long Song. These three black British neo-slave narratives do not just grant (formerly) enslaved men and women the opportunity to narrate their own life stories but also take an increasingly overt interest in their narrators’ autobiographical endeavours, and thus highlight the creative challenges that this genre of fictional life writing may present to literal and figurative modes of captivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-42
Number of pages20
JournalLife Writing
Issue number1
Early online date23 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • Authorship, black British fiction, historical fiction, neo-slave narrative

ID: 36658302