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James Weldon Johnson

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man - Paperback

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• With an original introduction by Ulrich Baer
• Includes several of Johnson’s influential and still timely
New York Age editorials
• Includes a detailed biographical timeline.


Recalling the great confessional narratives from St. Augustine to Jean Jacques Rousseau, from Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass to Henry Adams, James Weldon Johnson relates the emotionally gripping tale of a mixed-race piano prodigy who can pass for white in turn-of-the-century America. Forced into impossible choices created by an unjust society, the narrator describes his experiences as he travels from Jacksonville to New York City, the rural South to Paris, London, and beyond. The earliest first-person novel published by an African American author, Johnson’s powerfully unsentimental story examines the significance of chance and choice, the particularly American investment in self-invention, and the role of identity in shaping our lives. Its influence extends to Richard Wright, Ralph Waldo Ellison’s
Invisible Man and even Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father.


James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an American writer, diplomat, musician, public intellectual, and civil rights leader. The first African American executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, he was known for his poetry, novels, anthologies, and editorial writings. From 1906 to 1913 he served as President Theodore Roosevelt’s U.S. consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua. In 1931 he was appointed the Adam K. Spence Professor of Creative Literature at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and in 1934 he became New York University’s first African American professor.


Ulrich Baer holds a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Yale. He is University Professor at New York University and has been awarded Guggenheim, Getty, and Alexander von Humboldt fellowships for his work. He is the translator and editor of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Dark Interval, Letters on Life, and Letters to a Young Poet. Other books include Remnants of Song, Spectral Evidence, What Snowflakes Get Right, and in the Warbler Press Contemplations series: Dickinson on Love, Nietzsche on Love, Rilke on Love, and Wilde on Love.