As the Great Depression of the s deepened, the Harlem Renaissance slowly faded.
Writers during this time bridged the richly creative period of the Renaissance with the more intense creativity and sociopolitical activity that was to define the work produced during the civil rights movement. He also believed that African Americans were an essential part of American society. These tenets became the foundation for the ideology of the civil rights movement. During this time, other African American writers, notably poets, were taking a different road in their quest to be heard. Such poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Melvin B. Tolson, Margaret Walker , and Robert Hayden employed classical and mythical themes.
Brooks won a Pulitzer Prize in for her book Annie Allen and was the first African American to receive the award. These poets used a blend of extreme eclecticism with realistic, African American issues. The blend was successful, as their writing was met with acceptance in the university community. In addition, many African American works were gaining acceptance with the mainstream literary establishment. Thus, art imitated reality as A Raisin in the Sun mirrored the many efforts to integrate neighborhoods across America during the s.
The Black Arts movement, sometimes called the Black Aesthetics movement, was the first major African American artistic movement since the Harlem Renaissance. Beginning in the early s and lasting through the mids, this movement was fueled by the anger of Richard Wright , James Baldwin , Ralph Ellison , Ann Petry, and other notable African American writers. The artistic movement flourished alongside the civil rights marches and the call for the independence of the African American community.
While writers of the Harlem Renaissance seemed to investigate their identity within, writers of the Black Arts movement desired to define themselves and their era before being defined by others. For the most part, participants in the Black Arts movement were supportive of separatist politics and a black nationalist ideology. The Black Arts movement attempted to produce works of art that would be meaningful to the African American masses.
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In fact, much of the language used in these works was aggressive, profane, and shocking—this was often a conscious attempt to show the vitality and power of African American activists. These writers tended to be revolutionaries, supporting both radical and peaceful protests for change as promoted by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, they believed that artists were required to do more than create: artists also had to be political activists in order to achieve nationalist goals. Leading writers in this movement included Amiri Baraka Leroi Jones , whose poetry and plays were as well known as his political prowess, and Haki R.
Madhubuti Don L. Lee , a poet and essayist who sold more than , copies of his books without a national distributor. Nikki Giovanni was one of the first poets of the Black Arts movement to receive recognition. In her works, she advocated militant replies to white oppression and demonstrated through her performances that music is an inextricable part of the African American tradition in all aspects of life. Poet Sonia Sanchez was another leading voice of the movement.
She managed to combine feminism with her commitment to nurturing children and men in the fight for black nationalism. Sanchez was a member of the Nation of Islam from to , and through her association with the Black Arts movement, she managed to instill stronger support for the role of women in that religion. From to , the most important African American magazine was Negro Digest renamed Black World in ; its editor, Hoyt Fuller, published the works of the Black Arts poets and prose writers. The title of his classic album was not only a popular greeting but also testimony to the African American literary tradition.
Important developments in African American literature during the last three decades of the twentieth century include the overwhelming success of many African American women writers, as well as a growth in the number of authors who have found that they can straddle more than one genre. The works of black writers appear more frequently as bestsellers, and at times, works of several African American authors appear concurrently on the lists.
African American writing has become more legitimized in the United States, and African American studies departments have emerged in many universities around the country.
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It was perhaps one of the greatest African American writing coups of the late twentieth century. Since then, other books that explore the history of African Americans in the American West, the South , and the North have been published and eagerly received by African Americans. As a result of the large number of African American literary works that have been published since the s, a multitude of themes are present. Many African American writers have shifted their attention away from writing about the lack of equality between blacks and whites and toward themes of self-reflection, self-definition, and healing.
Numerous African American women write in response to the Black Arts movement, protesting the role that they feel women played in the male-oriented black nationalist movement. In this way, the somewhat female-repressive politics of the Black Arts movement has provoked women writers to express their own unique voices. Autobiographer and poet Maya Angelou is another major literary figure. Since the s, African American women writers have been at the leading edge of the publishing industry—in quality as well as quantity of work. African American novelists often confront issues of identity, offering interpretations of womanhood and manhood.
Challenged by W. Themes centered on slavery are prevalent in the works of writers who focus on the African American past. Relationships are of thematic interest to many modern day African American writers. Other important themes in contemporary African American literature relate to family and coming-of-age issues. A number of the coming-of-age novels by African Americans portray their protagonists maturing during the civil rights era.
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Barriers have been dismantled in various genres. Clearly, variety exists in contemporary African American novels. California Cooper , and Andrea Lee are good examples. With the exception of the novel, the most prolific form of African American writing during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is autobiography. Memoirs and autobiographies have become a popular mode of expression, especially for non-professional writers, entertainers, athletes, educators, ministers, civil rights leaders, politicians, physicians, attorneys, motivational speakers, and relatives of celebrities have written their life stories.
Delany and A. Their autobiography was published when Sadie, a former educator, was years old, and Bessie, a former dentist and civil rights activist, was Philanthropist, entrepreneur, and foundation executive Camille Cosby acquired the stage, film, and television rights to the autobiography. Consequently, Having Our Say opened on Broadway in , and was later transformed into a made-for-television film.
During the summer of , Having Our Say was recommended reading as the District of Columbia began a program designed to encourage individuals to read. Poetry, the first genre that African Americans produced, remains a popular vehicle for black expression. Joining them are poets who began publishing in the s— Rita Dove and Cornelius Eady—as well as poets who began publishing in the s, including Kevin Powell, Elizabeth Alexander, and Kevin Young.
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A second Furious Flower Conference was held in Harrisburg, Virginia, in , with more than 60 distinguished poets and scholars in attendance. Whether writing in traditional styles such as the sonnet or being influenced by rap or hip-hop, African American creators of verse tackle the same issues as their prose counterparts: identity, racism, sexism, classism, relationships, politics, and urban life. Since the s, poetry has become more popular and more accessible in the United States. Bookstores, universities, and literary groups continue to host established poets who read their verse before audiences.
There are a variety of Internet sites that encourage novices to submit their verse. African American writers and their works continue to be heralded on the national and international levels. And two African American women writers recorded landmark achievements in Rita Dove was named U. With the arrival of the twenty-first century, African American writers continue to look into their own world for answers rather than letting others define their past, present, or future.
Contemporary black authors are the beneficiaries of the vast legacy established by writers of the colonial period, the antebellum period, reconstruction era, Harlem Renaissance, the mid-twentieth century, and the Black Arts movement. Twenty-first century writers, empowered by their talents and their literary ancestors, are expanding and enhancing the African American literary tradition. To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book. Born in in Madison, Georgia, Raymond Andrews left his sharecropper home for Atlanta at 15 years of age.
Once establishing himself, he attended high school at night and went on to the U.
While working in New York in a variety of jobs—airline reservations clerk, hamburger cook, photo librarian, proofreader, inventory taker, mail room clerk, messenger, air courier dispatcher, and bookkeeper—he also perfected his literary skills. The first novel, Appalachee Red , set in the African American neighborhood of a northern Georgia town called Appalachee, was widely acclaimed.
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In the opinion of the reviewer for the St. Louis Globe Democrat , his work marked the literary debut of a significant modern American novelist comparable in stature to a Richard Wright or James Baldwin. The following year, Raymond Andrews was the first recipient of the annual James Baldwin Prize presented by Dial Press at a ceremony attended by Baldwin. This novel examines how the intermingling of the races affects an entire community, both black and white. Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, , is a writer, journalist, poet, actress, singer, dancer, playwright, director, and producer.
Angelou spent her formative years shuttling between her native St.
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But her true mark came later in life as her words became a symbol of hope that touched the soul of the people of the United States. Perhaps the ultimate recognition of her talent came when President-elect Bill Clinton asked the poet to compose and recite an inaugural poem for his swearing-in ceremony in She toured with the U. She began the following decade in the position of northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou went abroad working as an editor for The Arab Observer , an English-language weekly published in Cairo. While living in Accra, Ghana, under the black nationalist regime of Kwame Nkrumah , she taught music, drama, and wrote for the Ghanian Times.