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Extended Audio Sample The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (2,501 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James Weldon Johnson Narrator: Alan Bomar Jone Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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James Weldon Johnson’s emotionally gripping novel is a landmark in black literary history and, more than eighty years after its original anonymous publication, a classic of American fiction. The first fictional memoir ever written by a black, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man influenced a generation of writers during the Harlem Renaissance and served as eloquent inspiration for Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. In the 1920s and since, it has also given white readers a startling new perspective on their own culture, revealing to many the double standard of racial identity imposed on black Americans.

Narrated by a mulatto man whose light skin allows him to “pass” for white, the novel describes a pilgrimage through America’s color lines at the turn of the century—from a black college in Jacksonville to an elite New York nightclub, from the rural South to the white suburbs of the Northeast.

This is a powerful, unsentimental examination of race in America, a hymn to the anguish of forging an identity in a nation obsessed with color.

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Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Tabitha | 2/18/2014

    " I believe every child in the South should read this book as part of Southern history. We learned about the Civil War in school, and about Reconstruction. Depending upon the teacher you got, the middle of the nineteenth century was either required material, a glorious period in Southern history, or a terrible era of U.S. history. In either way, the symbolism of the period always seemed to overshadow its reality. What Johnson does so well is to make his main character real, while still presenting the debates (the color question, as he often puts it) of the time. Johnson's observations about Southerners, white and black, and the South are some of the most insightful observations I have ever read about my region. Several of these passages struck me, but the most presient observations occurred as the narrator rode a train to Georgia, and listened to a debate about race conducted by several men in the smoking car (it is in this passage that the narrator remarked that Southerners simply have to talk, and strangers put in any confined space will not be strangers for long). It is in this passage that Johnson's narrator admires Southerns "for the manner in which he defends not only his virtues, but his vices." I re-read that sentence over and over--how very well it described Southern history! I highly recommend this book to everyone, but I absolutely recommend it to anyone that has lived in the South and struggled to define that elusive entity that is the American South. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Chrysta | 1/17/2014

    " I don't know whether it's good or bad that 100 years after its initial publication the book is not only relevant but still holds a lot of truth. It's uncomfortably brilliant and should be read, re-read, discussed, and required. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Alexia | 1/11/2014

    " I enjoyed this book. It was different than what I thought- it only addresses the narrator's "passing" briefly at the end. The book is more about the narrator's experiences with race over the course of his life that ultimately led him to live life as a white man rather than his life living as a white man. This most likely ends up making for a more interesting novel. I was surprised at how often I didn't want to put this book down- not always the case with classic literature. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jessica | 12/20/2013

    " A classic example of a narrative of passing from the Harlem Renaissance. Interesting, but historical context is necessary. "

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About the Author
Author James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. James is remembered best for his leadership within the NAACP, as well as for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. His most famous book is The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. He also published The Book of American Negro Spirituals, Black Manhattan, and Negro Americans, What Now? One of the first African American professors at New York University, James also served as a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.