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In the preface to the original edition of his Book of American Negro Poetry, James Weldon Jonson argued that black writers could make a number of contributions, including the following:
- They could contribute to America’s reputation as a truly great nation by contributing to its literature.
- They could make black Americans better respected by white Americans by showing that black Americans could produce worthy literature.
- They could (and did) contribute to the world some distinctively American forms of art.
- They could (and did) write poetry at least as competently as many white poets, and often they wrote far more effectively than many white poets who had nonetheless received more attention and praise.
- They could use their poetry to explore racial issues from a distinctive perspective that deserved fuller attention.
- If they were sufficiently talented (as Paul Lawrence Dunbar was), they could express comprehensively in their poetry a sense of the whole complex culture of their people.
- They could, like Dunbar, use traditional black dialect with highly memorable effectiveness.
- They could, like Dunbar, use the traditional speech of their people to make great art.
- They could, if they were modern, begin to transcend dialect poetry and write in varied styles.
- They could, if they wanted to, begin to express both the humor and the pathos of black American life.
- They could, like Jessie Faucet, deal with themes relevant to readers of all races and times.
- They could show the variety of different kinds of black speech used in different parts of the country.
In the preface to the revised edition of his book, Johnson suggested some further contributions that black poets could make, including the following:
- They could, like Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown, capture the flavor and vitality of contemporary black speech in their verse. They could use what Johnson calls
the common, racy, living speech of the Negro in certain phases of real life.
- They could express the true, sometimes bitter feelings blacks often had about life in the United States.
- They could deal more subtly with racial matters than such matters had been dealt with in poetry in the past.
- They could draw on black folk traditions when composing their poems.
- They could produce poetry, on non-racial issues, that was at least as accomplished as most of the poetry most white writers produced.
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