John Oliver Killens David Littlejohn - Essay

David Littlejohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Oliver Killens has written two long, detailed, humorless, artless, almost documentary race novels, Youngblood (1954) and And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963). The first is a sort of Negro family epic, the expected tale of two generations of long-suffering blacks and their sadistic white masters in a Georgia town. The second tells the interminable story of Negroes (and whites) in wartime, where the ordeal of World War II seems less harrowing, in the long run, than the race war inside it. It runs through pages of somber "graphic realism," i.e., pages of vapidly obscene barracks chatter and hard-boiled crudeness of description: that's the way it was. Both books are sincerely well intended, and packed to bursting with details of Negro (Southern, army) life, episode after episode, as detailed by a careful, intelligent, unimaginative Negro with absolutely no sense of the art of fiction. They represent the kind of novel most Americans with great stocks of experience would probably write, if they had the will and were Negroes. The books are useful, and, to readers who make no great demands on their novelists, mildly moving and exciting. (pp. 143-44)

David Littlejohn, in his Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing by American Negroes (copyright © 1966 by David Little-john; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.), Viking Penguin, 1966.