Authors in Black History
Referring to those of African descent, the term “black” has come to reflect not simply a color but the awareness of historical experiences held in common among such people, especially since their first contact with European colonialism. These influences inform and are reflected in the work of black authors.
The first black poet to be published in the U.S. was Jupiter Hammon; his poem entitled "An Evening of Thought" appeared in 1760. Phillis Wheatley was the first black woman and poet to have a book published. Her "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" was printed in London in 1773, as the publishers in Boston refused it. In the period following World War I, black art forms flourished with the northern migration to the cities, a period called the Harlem Renaissance. During the Harlem Renaissance, notable poets included Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Maya Angelou, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove and Nikki Giovanni are all counted as accomplished modern poets; Rita Dove served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995.
Ralph Ellison, author of “The Invisible Man,” and James Baldwin, author of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Another Country,” are both well-known post-WWII novelists. Zora Neale Hurston, author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” gained a posthumous reputation as a novelist. Black novelists have proliferated since the 1960s. The number of black female novelists is striking and includes such authors as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Edwidge Dandicat. Noir fiction, formerly the exclusive province of Euro-American writers, has witnessed the rise of a black master of this novel genre, Walter Mosley.
Black writers adopted the autobiography as a vehicle for social commentary; this form was used as both a political tool and as critical exegesis of black history. Frederick Douglass and W.E.B Du Bois wrote autobiographies that were groundbreaking literary works. Dozens of black authors followed this example, including Booker T. Washington, Richard Wright, James McBride, Hosea Hudson, Malcolm X and Maya Angelou.
Black Nonfiction Authors
Douglass and Du Bois also wrote about the issues of their times affecting black people in essays, books of social criticism and articles for the black press. Prominent modern nonfiction writers who continued this tradition include Cornel West, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia J. Williams, James Cone and Manning Marable. West and Cone have articulated theological themes as they relate to race and power. Lorde, who died in 1992 and was also a poet, addressed issues from a black feminist perspective, as does bell hooks at the present time. Marable writes on black history and founded the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, while Williams, a law professor, explores race as an issue in the American legal system.
W.E. Du Bois was called the father of Pan-Africanism, the idea that the international communities of the African diaspora shared a common history and common interests. Pan-African writers came to include French-Algerian Frantz Fanon, who wrote “The Wretched of the Earth;" Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who wrote “Capitalism and Slavery;” and C.L.R. James, whose book “The Black Jacobins” still stands as the definitive history of the Haitian Revolution.
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