The Use and Abuse of Gustavus Vassa; Or, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano on Its Own Terms


Published in London in 1789 as part of the effort to abolish the African slave trade, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African; Written by Himself is usually understood as the autobiography of an African who was kidnapped and transported across the infamous Middle Passage into a life of slavery from which he emancipated himself — and thus as one of the works that established the “slave narrative” genre. This talk, however, will argue that the book is something else and more: an evangelical text that employs the author’s life-story as a means of bringing readers to a true understanding of Christianity and, thereby, of the godliness of abolition. As such, the work has little in common with the genre it is supposed to have helped found.