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Thread: Celebrating Black-American Literature

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    Celebrating Black-American Literature

    Phillis Wheatley
    (1753-1784)




    On Being Brought from Africa to America
    by Phillis Wheatley

    'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
    Taught my benighted soul to understand
    That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
    Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
    Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
    "Their colour is a diabolic die."
    Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
    May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.


    Note to my fellow NitLetters: Please feel free to include other Black-American authors in this thread. It would be really good if there could be at least one posting for each of the 28 days in February, though any time of year is appropriate to recognize such noteworthy authors.

    And one more thing, if you don't read anything else today, please read the enlightening article by June Jordan. Click here or paste the link below.

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/art...try-in-america
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-11-2018 at 01:06 PM.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    First a link to her bio. I don´t know if there are many people who know this slave poet:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillis_Wheatley
    "You can always find something better than death."
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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Ralph Ellison

    His fiction addresses racial and identity conflicts. A link to the story "A party down the square" (pdf)

    mcpworldliterature.wikispaces.com/.../A+Party+Down+at+the+Sq...
    "You can always find something better than death."
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    Registered User tailor STATELY's Avatar
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    Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist, humanitarian, child of God

    Start with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqOqo50LSZ0

    Poem I Know Why Caged Bird Sings: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/caged-bird-21/

    Audio version recited by Angela and various: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZzOxWAxde0

    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Angelou

    Audio by Maya: Excerpt from her autobiographical novel Why the Caged Bird Sings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lrNS7I2Wqg

    Shmoop analytics on Maya's novel: https://www.shmoop.com/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings/

    and so much more: https://www.youtube.com/results?sear...y=maya+angelou

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    Enchant Me

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    Lament not your unassailable mystery
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    Charles Johnson

    Thank you Danik and Tailor for your info on Ralph Ellison and on Maya, respectively. Keep 'em comin', NitLetters!


    February 2

    Charles Johnson
    (b. 1948)

    Professor Johnson is among the most versatile of prominent American creative artists. An adept cartoonist and illustrator as well as literary scholar and critic, he is best known for his vibrantly illuminating novels and short story collections. Some have described Johnson's works as "slave narratives," but that may be too slight a characterization, given the depth and multi-layered structure of his fiction. Although the historical perspective, mythological allusions, and social commentary of Johnson's subjects can't be denied, readers should know how "readable" and entertaining his prose can be. I heartily recommend Oxherding Tale and Middle Passage, the latter having won the National Book Award for 1990. He is a good author whose works are worth exploring more closely.

    For more, click here.

    http://www.oxherdingtale.com/
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-03-2018 at 03:31 PM.

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    One of my goals for this post -- no pun intended, football fans! -- is to bring to light some authors who may be new to some readers. Even so, the spotlight at the moment is on an American poet well known to most high school students across the U.S. Of course I'm talking about Langston Hughes (1902-1967.)

    His verse is straightforward, and yes, I suppose we could say "accessible," but what should be mentioned is the fact that his lines are far from superficial. In fact, Hughes's verse shares attributes with other twentieth century stalwarts such as Robert Frost and Delmore Schwartz in that multiple levels of meaning lie beneath the ostensibly "simple" lines.

    For instance, like "True-Blue American" by the aforementioned Schwartz, "Theme for English B" features both (literally) concrete descriptions of the city streets as well as imagery and language symbolizing abstract philosophical and social commentary. Layers of cultural, economic, and racial significance lie buried under the colloquial chatty style.

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...-for-english-b

    And similar to Gwendolyn Brooks, Hughes can deftly traverse from the use of a highly structured, "literary" technique to unfiltered "dialect." In "Mother to Son," the poem crystallizes insight and emotion. Yet his poetry never suffers from the "bad art" cursed by Stravinsky for its excessive "sincerity."

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX9tHuI7zVo

    For more about Langston Hughes, here is a cogent summary by Benjamin Voight:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/art...ton-hughes-101

    Langston Hughes: Superstar.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-11-2018 at 01:08 PM.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Lucy Terry Prince-The very first one

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Terry

    Her ballad about an attack upon two white families by Native Americans on August 25, 1746 is the first known work of literature by an African American.

    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/bars-fight/
    "You can always find something better than death."
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    One of my favorite current novelists is James McBride, author of "Good Lord Bird", "Miracle at Santa Anna", and "Five Carat Soul" (among other novels). He also wrote the best-selling memoir "The Color of Water", about his family. His mother was a Jewish immigrant living in the North Carolina. She married a black man, moved to Brooklyn, and was ostracized by her family. Her husband died young, leaving her a widow with six children. She remarried another African-American, and had six more children. The memoir explains how Ruth (James' mother) organized and motivated the impoverished family, all of whom went on to become doctors, lawyers and college professors (except James, who was a ne'er do well Jazz musician, attended college at my alma mater, and then became an award-winning author in middle age).

    "Good Lord Bird" is the story of John Brown, as told by a ten-year-old boy who joins his mob. Brown (and Frederick Douglas) are portrayed as dangerous lunatics -- but Brown, at least, is redeemed in the moving ending.

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    Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

    Thank you, Danik and Ecurb for your contributions. That's the spirit! So many authors; not enough days in the month. We'll most likely have a carry over, which is wonderful.

    One theme found throughout the literature of these shores is the so-called "American Dream." This aspirational motif transcends every ethnic and religious group, but not, we could say, economic, as the desire for a better life is not relevant to the top 1%, where it's a given.

    Langston Hughes's famous question about a deferred dream inspired perhaps the most well-known drama by an African-American, A Raisin in the Sun. The playwright was Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), the first female Black American author to have her work performed on Broadway. The premiere was in 1959, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.

    Perhaps inspired by an incident in Hansberry's own family which led to an actual U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the plot concerns a Black family's attempt to purchase a house in Chicago over the objection of neighbors bitterly opposed to integration. The Critics Circle named this play Best Drama of 1959.

    Some of Hansberry's other writings include The Drinking Gourd, a play set in the American South during the time of slavery, and a posthumous production of a compilation of her writings entitled To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, named for the title of song written about her by Nina Simone.

    Sadly, this gifted author's life ended too soon. She did, however, leave a legacy of far-reaching influence on later generations toward insight into social issues, politics, racial identity, feminism and sexuality. American literature has been blessed by her all-too-brief illumination.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine_Hansberry
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-09-2018 at 05:30 PM.

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    Sterling Allen Brown

    Raised in a rich intellectual environment his writing often accentuated the vernacular of his black heritage: "Brown often imitated southern African-American speech, using "variant spellings and apostrophes to mark dropped consonants". - Thompson-Taylor, Betty (2002). "Sterling Brown". Critical Survey Of Poetry.

    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_Allen_Brown
    Brown began his teaching career with positions at several universities, including Lincoln University and Fisk University, before returning to Howard in 1929. He was a professor there for 40 years. Brown's poetry used the south for its setting and showed slave experiences of the African American people. Brown often imitated southern African-American speech, using "variant spellings and apostrophes to mark dropped consonants". He taught and wrote about African-American literature and folklore. He was a pioneer in the appreciation of this genre. He had an "active, imaginative mind" when writing and "a natural gift for dialogue, description and narration"...

    His poetic work was influenced in content, form and cadence by African-American music, including work songs, blues and jazz. Like that of Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and other black writers of the period, his work often dealt with race and class in the United States. He was deeply interested in a folk-based culture, which he considered most authentic. Brown is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance artistic tradition ( in the 1920's and 1930's. ), although he spent the majority of his life in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C.
    His poem Southern Cop describes the pathos of a tragic encounter with a twist of his deft hand: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/southern-cop/

    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor STATELY
    Enchant Me

    Your very being a desire for answer
    Lament not your unassailable mystery
    Enchant me with your dreams

    5-14-2005

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    James Baldwin

    Thank you, Tailor STATELY for your latest contribution. This is exactly what I'd hoped this thread would do!

    Your author, Sterling Allen Brown, is new to me, but thanks to your post, one whose works I'd like to explore. Apparently, among his many literary and academic accomplishments, Professor Brown was also a folklorist. This is a similarity he shares with another luminary, Zora Neale Hurston, who will appear on this thread soon.

    Today, I'd like to include James Baldwin (1924-1987) Decades ago I saw a magazine article containing a conversation between Mr. Baldwin and the anthropologist, Margaret Mead. At first I thought it was an odd match-up, until I realized the common ground of the topics discussed.

    James Baldwin's impressive list of works include his first novel, Go Tell it On The Mountain, whose title comes from an American Spiritual. This is partially autobiographical, as well as the later works, Giovanni's Room and Another Country. A non-fiction work in 1963, The Fire Next Time, appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for a record 41 weeks, the first essay to do so. His impassioned prose not only reflected but also informed the Civil Rights Movement in mid-twentieth century America.

    Baldwin was the subject of two episodes of American Masters on PBS, which also recently broadcast an Oscar®-nominated documentary about his life. And speaking of movies, take a look at this article, praising his critical skills.



    https://www.theatlantic.com/entertai...ritten/359996/
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-09-2018 at 05:36 PM.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois(February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963)

    "He was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor.
    ...
    Racism was the main target of Du Bois's polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for the independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread prejudice in the United States military."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._E._B._Du_Bois

    A short excerpt of his essay on what it is to be a Negro in US:
    The Souls of Black Folk
    "After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

    The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face."
    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 02-06-2018 at 07:18 PM.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    Four Playwrights

    A worthy and highly important addition to our survey, Danik. Thank you for your post!

    The other day when I was looking up info on Lorraine Hansberry, it occurred to me that the realm of Black American literature has blessed us with quite a number of talented women authors, four of whom I'd like to give a shout-out today. Some of these contemporary artist are also known for their acting skills and political activism as well as novels and poetry, but what they hold in common is their gift for drama.

    Ntozake Shange (b. 1948.) Her most famous work is For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf. Originally conceived as a "choreopoem," the stage production has been a staple for many college and community theatre groups since its off-Broadway debut. A later iteration on Broadway was nominated for a Tony® Award.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ntozake_Shange

    A character named Ntsozake Shange is one of cast of twenty-nine people all portrayed by Anna Deavere Smith (b. 1950) in Fires in the Mirror. Not only did Anna appear in this one-person production, she also wrote the play, based on interviews with real people. Examining a harrowing event in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn of 1991, the play's monologues examine the effect of the incident upon the members of both the Black and Jewish communities. In addition to receiving multiple awards and honors for her acting career, Anna Deavere Smith has been heralded as a "pioneer" in a new genre called verbatim theatre.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Deavere_Smith

    Another multi-character, one-woman show is Bridge and Tunnel, written and performed by Sarah Jones (b. 1973.) Highly acclaimed in its 2004 debut, the multi-cultural "valentine" to the outer boroughs of New York garnered rave reviews, such as this one from the New York Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/27/th...ws/27brid.html

    And finally, we'll close today's post with a recognition of Lynn Nottage (b. 1964), the only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama-- twice. The honor first went to her 2009 play, Ruined, about women attempting to survive a civil war in the Republic of the Congo. Her more recent play, Sweat takes place in Pennsylvania in which working class folks, both black and white, attempt to cope during a time of economic crisis. This play was nominated for a Tony® Award in 2017.

    https://www.interviewmagazine.com/cu...-nottage-sweat
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-09-2018 at 05:30 PM.

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    Registered User tailor STATELY's Avatar
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    Paul Laurence Dunbar

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Laurence_Dunbar :

    Another writer utilizing the black dialect/vernacular Dunbar was "an American poet, novelist, and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War". "Dunbar became the first African-American poet to earn national distinction and acceptance."

    "(C)ritic William Dean Howells... particularly praised (Dunbar's) dialect poems. In this period (1896) there was an appreciation for folk culture, and black dialect was believed to express one type of that. The new literary fame enabled Dunbar to publish his first two books as a collected volume, titled Lyrics of Lowly Life, which included an introduction by Howells." An example of Dunbar's dialect poems:

    Little Brown Baby


    Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
    Come to yo' pappy an' set on his knee.
    What you been doin', suh — makin' san' pies?
    Look at dat bib — you's es du'ty ez me.
    Look at dat mouf — dat's merlasses, I bet;
    Come hyeah, Maria, an' wipe off his han's.
    Bees gwine to ketch you an' eat you up yit,
    Bein' so sticky an sweet — goodness lan's!

    Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
    Who's pappy's darlin' an' who's pappy's chile?
    Who is it all de day nevah once tries
    Fu' to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
    Whah did you git dem teef? My, you's a scamp!
    Whah did dat dimple come f'om in yo' chin?
    Pappy do' know you — I b'lieves you's a tramp;
    Mammy, dis hyeah's some ol' straggler got in!

    Let's th'ow him outen de do' in de san',
    We do' want stragglers a-layin' 'roun' hyeah;
    Let's gin him 'way to de big buggah-man;
    I know he's hidin' erroun' hyeah right neah.
    Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do',
    Hyeah's a bad boy you kin have fu' to eat.
    Mammy an' pappy do' want him no mo',
    Swaller him down f'om his haid to his feet!

    Dah, now, I t'ought dat you'd hug me up close.
    Go back, ol' buggah, you sha'n't have dis boy.
    He ain't no tramp, ner no straggler, of co'se;
    He's pappy's pa'dner an' play-mate an' joy.
    Come to you' pallet now — go to yo' res';
    Wisht you could allus know ease an' cleah skies;
    Wisht you could stay jes' a chile on my breas'—
    Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes!


    Dunbar's works writing purely about white culture were not met with critical acclaim.

    Though Dunbar only lived to the age of 33 he was very productive: "he wrote a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, four novels, lyrics for a musical, and a play."

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...aurence-dunbar

    An example of Dunbar's non-dialect poetry:

    Ships that Pass in the Night


    Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
    I look far out into the pregnant night,
    Where I can hear a solemn booming gun
    And catch the gleaming of a random light,
    That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.

    My tearful eyes my soul's deep hurt are glassing;
    For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
    I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
    My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
    And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.

    O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
    O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
    Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
    That I may sight and check that speeding bark
    Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?


    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor STATELY
    Enchant Me

    Your very being a desire for answer
    Lament not your unassailable mystery
    Enchant me with your dreams

    5-14-2005

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    Junius Edwards

    Thanks for your post, Tailor. I was going to write something about Dunbar's formal verse a little later in the month. I might still do it. We'll see.

    In addition to portraying both the past and present, Black American literature often examines topics that remain in focus decades after the work was originally created. From the Civil Rights Movement, The Right to Vote continues to loom as an issue, despite the ratification of the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even today, some U.S. states are imposing strict “voter I.D.” rules which have a direct impact upon minority groups.

    In the tragic chapters of America’s past, the South enforced notorious Jim Crow laws as well as less formal but just as sinister tactics, such as so-called “literacy tests” whose acceptable answers were so arbitrary that it was said that even Ph.D scholars couldn’t pass them.

    Black American veterans returning home from armed conflicts experienced voter suppression in an acutely painful way. They had risked their lives serving a country which categorically denied them their rights as citizens.

    Which brings us to today’s featured writer, Junius Edwards (1929-2005.) Born in Louisiana, he served in the U.S, Army for nine years. After his military service, he earned a college education at the University of Oslo in Norway with the help of the G.I. bill.

    When he was still a soldier stationed in New Jersey, he discovered that he had a natural knack for winning contests in which entrants came up with jingles or catchy slogans for products. After his military service, he earned a college education at the University of Oslo with the help of the G.I. bill.

    Other than the sloganeering, Junius Edwards had no other experience in copywriting. Nevertheless, upon his returning to this country from Norway, he was able to land such a job at an advertising agency in New York. After eight years, Junius Edwards opened his own advertising agency, the very first such agency owned by a Black American.

    Junius Edwards wrote award-winning short stories but his best known work is a 1963 novel about Will Harris, a returning Korean War vet returning home amid vicious discrimination. Many of the authors we’ve looked at so far have selected the titles for their works from lines of other great Black American artists. Junius Edwards continues that tradition by gleaning his title from a poem by Claude McKay: If We Must Die.

    The following excerpt is often published separately as “Liars Don’t Qualify.” Hope you can take the opportunity to read it. The prose reminds me of that in some of Ralph Ellison's short stories as well as the sparse Hemingway-inflected lines of dialogue.


    https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/...s-dont-qualify

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