Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Angela Davis is a well-known radical activist who became famous in the early 1970’s. Since her time as a graduate student working with the philosopher Herbert Marcuse at the University of California at San Diego, she has worked for the rights of African Americans, prisoners, and others, eschewing the mainstream of the Civil Rights movement in favor of a radical, no-holds-barred critique of American society and institutions. She is a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party and the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class (1981) and Women, Culture, and Politics (1989). She was fired from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) because of her Communist Party membership, an association that, in defiance of consequences, she never denied.

Angela Davis: An Autobiography is the story of Davis’s childhood and political education. Originally published in 1974, the year Davis turned thirty (and written when Davis was twenty-eight), the book focuses on her extended incarceration in New York and California prisons awaiting trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. The book climaxes with the delivery of the verdict in Davis’s trial, held in San Jose, California.

Davis’s notoriety as a fugitive and activist (until she was found in New York and extradited for trial to California, her name was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of the ten most wanted fugitives) made an autobiography timely and marketable. Though her youth caused her to hesitate to write such a book, she came to see it as a way to publicize the causes she believed in and to emphasize her involvement in a communal fight against oppression and racism. “I was not anxious to write this book,” she asserts in her preface. “Writing an autobiography at my age seemed presumptuous. . . . The one extraordinary event of my life had nothing to do with me as an individual—with a little twist of history, another sister or brother could have easily become the political prisoner whom millions of people from...

(The entire section is 855 words.)