IntroductionThe history of African-American literature is as old and varied as the United States itself, but there are several recurrent themes: combating racism, searching for a black identity, and maintaining a unique quality of life. One of the first published African Americans was Phillis Wheatley, whose collection of poetry precedes the U.S. Revolutionary War by three years (1773). Eighteenth-century “Slave Narratives,” journals of personal experiences by slaves, were (and still are) a source of insight and inspiration to readers. African-American literature of the 1800s was dominated by autobiographical works, culminating in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery at the turn of the century. The early twentieth century produced many influential African-American writers, among them Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Contemporary authors such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou continue to expand the canon of African-American literature.
- Frederick Douglass’ autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845) advocated education as a way out of the physical and mental bondage of slavery. Douglass argued, “A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.”
- The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was a movement toward re-creating a unique African-American identity and celebrating black voices in the arts. Poets like Langston Hughes and novelists such as Richard Wright wanted to create a “New Black” identity that would change racial stereotypes by proving the depth of the African-American intellect.
- In the 1970s, publication of Alex Haley’s novel Roots: The Story of an American Family helped many Americans to deal honestly with the history of slavery and inspired a keen interest in genealogy.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Beloved by Toni Morrison continued some of the genealogical recovery work from a woman’s point of view.
- Oprah Winfrey, one of the most powerful women in the world, is responsible for bringing African-American literature to a vast audience through her wildly successful Book Club. Just some of the authors she’s included: Edwidge Danicat, Alan Paton, and Lalita Tademy.
All Resources by Category
- Alice Walker (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
- Frederick Douglass (Cyclopedia of World Authors)
- Frederick Douglass (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
- Gwendolyn Brooks (Cyclopedia of World Authors)
- Gwendolyn Brooks (Magill’s Choice: American Ethnic Writers)
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Cyclopedia of World Authors)
- Zora Neale Hurston (Cyclopedia of World Authors)
- African-American Identity in Literature (Identities and Issues in Literature)
- Alice Walker (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
- Alice Walker (Poetry Criticism)
- James Baldwin (Critical Survey of Long Fiction)
- Maya Angelou (Poetry Criticism)
- Phillis Wheatley (Critical Survey of Poetry)
- Ralph Ellison (Short Story Criticism)
- Zora Neal Hurston (Contemporary Literary Criticism: Vol. 7)
- Harlem Renaissance Study Guide (eNotes)
- Racism in Literature (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
- The Civil Rights Movement Represented in Literature (Identities and Issues in Literature)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide (eNotes) - Maya Angelou
- Invisible Man Study Guide (eNotes) - Ralph Ellison
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Study Guide (eNotes) - Frederick Douglass
- Song of Solomon Study Guide (eNotes) - Toni Morrison
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X Study Guide (eNotes) - Malcom X
- The Color Purple Study Guide (eNotes) - Alice Walker
- Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide (eNotes) - Zora Neale Hurston
- African-American Drama
- African-American Folklore and Literature
- African-American Literature
- African-American Long Fiction
- African-American Poetry
- African-American Short Fiction
- To His Excellency General Washington Study Guide (eNotes) - Phillis Wheatley
- Up from Slavery (Masterplots II: African American Literature Series) - Booker T. Washington
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