Press Release

What does it really mean to be Black? In a deeply divided country, a light-skinned African American sets out to find his identity.

New Release: Color – Ein amerikanisches Leben

Color – Ein Amerikanisches Leben

(The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Roman von James Weldon Johnson, translated and published by Olaf Knechten, hardcover: ISBN 9783754374634, paperback: ISBN 9783754374726, ebook: ISBN 9783754376676, Books on Demand 2021)

The novel is available as paperback and ebook and as well as beautiful collector‘s hardcover edition in bookstores everywhere.

This novel, though written over a hundred years ago, addresses the central issue of our time – the question of our identity. It reckons with racism and double standards, shows dark chapters of American history that still resonate today, but also emphasizes Black America’s strengthening confidence after abolition and its invaluable cultural influence.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man was initially published anonymously in 1912. In it, the unnamed first-person narrator describes the stages of his troubled life. His search for a sense of home and belonging takes him across the United States, to Europe and back again, from a cigar factory to a gambling den and a ragtime club, from Paris opera house and Berlin concert halls to an Evangelical Big Meeting in the American South.

This book is like a cross between a coming-of-age and a road novel. Straightforward, honest but at the same time entertaining, it provides an insight into African American lives and American society as a whole around 1900.

Author James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was a man of many talents with an extraordinary career path. He was a writer, composer, college professor, lawyer, diplomat, and civil rights activist.

A leading member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he advocated for anti-lynching legislation, among other causes. Together with his brother John Rosamond Johnson, he wrote the song Lift Every Voice and Sing which became an African American anthem. Later, the brothers composed several ragtime hits.

A key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson wrote poetry, essays, and an autobiography. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man remained his only novel.

James Weldon Johnson (Image: Smithonian Institution, public domain)

Olaf Knechten is a German translator, editor and artist. After studying visual arts in Cologne, Germany, he moved to London, UK, where he earned his Diploma in Translation from the Chartered Institute of Linguists. In addition to numerous novels, he translated subtitles for feature films and television series. In particular, his translation of Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance trilogy became a great success with the public. After 20 years in the United Kingdom, he now lives in Cologne again.

The themes of racism and identity are more pertinent than ever. That’s why this classic made it onto Olaf Knechten’s translation wishlist. With the help of an arts grant from the North Rhine-Westphalia state government he has now been able to realize this translation and publication.

Journalists and bloggers can request a free review copy by sending an e-mail to and providing their shipping address. Interested booksellers will also receive a free copy at

Images are available on request.


Olaf Knechten DipTrans MCIL

Im Rosenwinkel 11

51143 Köln


+49 (0)176 41011829

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Author: Olaf K.

Translator, writer, editor Übersetzer, Autor, Lektor

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