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Thread: Celebrating Black-American Literature

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    Toni Morrison

    Born in Lorain, Ohio, a town near Cleveland, she was originally named Chloe Ardelia Wofford. Later in life, combining a diminutive of her confirmation name with the surname of her husband, “Toni Morrison” became a name known to all (or should be!)

    Her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, appeared in 1970. The pre-World War II story concerns a teenage girl, Percola, who, having been impregnated by her father, is being temporarily cared for by another family in Lorain, Ohio. Amid symbols that are both supernatural and sociological, one of Percola’s foster sisters narrates the account with magical thinking as well as realistically sociological perception. Though frequently challenged, banned, and censored by officials in American high schools, this novel is a brilliant portrayal of the conflict between Black identity. Young women were adversely affected by the prevailing attitude of the society; they felt “ugly” when they compared themselves and the standard of beauty only whites had been allowed to define at the time. The novel’s title reinforces that notion, as in a section of Gwendolyn Brooks poem “In the Mecca,” both whites and blacks had been taught that “Whiteness is great.”

    Another quotation – a verse from Romans 9:25-- forms the epigraph for what arguably may be the most celebrated among all of Toni Morrison’s eleven novels, Beloved, first published in 1987. Suggested by an actual historical incident, this is a fictional account of a black woman in the time of the Civil War era in similar circumstances. The woman named Sethe murders one of her children in order to save her from the torture of an enslaved life. After Sethe escapes and settles in Cincinnati, the deceased child returns to haunt her as a ghost. There is no doubt that Beloved is a work of art yet in addition it can be considered a reflection of African-American experience and as such – despite the paranormal elements – an accurate one. Sethe’s motive is not unlike the ultraviolent character Bigger Thomas in Native Son, albeit Richard Wright's novel has with a 20th century setting and a naturalistic style. Sethe personifies the extreme lengths Black Americans have been forced to go because of the destruction transformation caused by relentless suffering.

    A 2015 New York Times profile about Toni Morrison acknowledges the fact that her position and descriptions of race are “varied and complicated.” Her purpose in writing is neither didactic nor polemical but rather a response to the human condition as experienced by Blacks. As she tells the interviewer, Toni Morrison says her purpose is to “suggest what the conflicts are, what the problems are;” the author’s role is to record and reflect.

    According to The Reader’s Encyclopedia, “Morrison’s novels expose the formerly disregarded experience of the black American woman. Her language is musical and precise, creating evocative dialogue and merging mythical, supernatural elements with reality to paint a bleak and painful portrait of American life.”

    Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison’s third novel, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1979. She received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved in 1988. In 1993 she made history by becoming the first Black female writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Seven years later the National Endowment for the Humanities presented her with its highest award, the Medal of Honor.

    This coming Sunday, February 18, 2018 will mark the 87th birthday of Toni Morrison. We thank her for her transformative contribution to American culture and send her best wishes for her years to come.

    Please read this profile, if you can:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/m...-morrison.html

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    Toni Cade Bambara

    Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995) led a remarkable life, rich in such varied experiences as a student of the art of mime in Paris, a dancer with the prestigious Katherine Dunham Studio in New York, a literary scholar and critic, social worker, activist in the feminist movement, college professor, and documentary film maker. She is best known, however, as an author of short stories.

    Miltona Mirikin Cade changed her first name to Toni at the age of 6 and later began using a surname derived from an ethnic group in West Africa. Toni’s early life was firmly located in the geographic area of New York. Born in Harlem, she grew up in the Bed-Sty section of Brooklyn, Queens, and across the river in New Jersey. She was educated in Queens College and did her Master’s degree work at City College. Her academic career included teaching at Rutgers, Emory, and Atlanta Universities.

    Among her short stories, her first collection, Gorilla, My Love (1970) earned much acclaim. Because of her skillful characterizations of young women, especially teenagers, many high school anthologies feature a story by Toni Cade Bambara. Often driven by first-person narrators, the rhythmic, realistic language of her prose “sounds” authentic.

    In this regard “Raymond’s Run” is especially noteworthy. “Squeaky” is a talented runner, vexed by the seemingly pretentious postures of her classmates. Though determined to best them in a race, Squeaky also takes responsibility for taking care of her brother, Raymond, who apparently has a cognitive disability. “Raymond’s Run” is a powerful story, which explores emotional territory in an unsentimental, nuanced way.

    The story called “The Lesson” features subtle social commentary. A self-proclaimed do-gooder in the neighborhood takes a small group of disadvantaged Black children to a pricey toy store apparently to show them the kind of life circumscribed to them because of their current living conditions. The children are savvy enough to recognize the ridiculous irony of the situation. “The Lesson” was chosen for inclusion in the annual anthology, The Best American Short Stories for 1972, edited by Martha Foley.

    In his review of that volume, New York Times critic C.D.B. Bryan said

    Toni Cade Bambara tells me more about being black through her quiet, proud, silly, tender, hip, acute, loving stories than any amount of literary polemicizing could hope to do. . .[S]he writes about love: a love for one's family, one's friends, one's race, one's neighborhood, and it is the sort of love that comes with maturity and inner peace.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/11/ny...-maker-56.html
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-17-2018 at 05:17 PM.

  3. #33
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    Anne Spencer 1882 - 1975

    Harlem Renaissance poet, activist, librarian, teacher, gardener.

    Youtube: Anne Spencer - African American Trailblazers -

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsEl92RCTwU

    Biography: Anne Spencer house and Garden Museum:

    http://www.annespencermuseum.com/biography.php

    Much of her poetry was deeply connected to her garden and she used her garden and the plants she grew there symbolically in many of her poems, among them, "Grapes, Still Life." Among her most influential works was "White Things", though it was not republished in her lifetime after its initial appearance in The Crisis. Nevertheless, its impact was such that Keith Clark, in Notable Black American Women, referred to it as "the quintessential 'protest' poem."[9] Still poetically active up to her death in 1975, Anne Spencer wrote one of her most evocative poems, titled for that same year, "1975."
    Article: "Seeking Anne Spencer Dec 10, 2017 By: Lesley Wheeler Volume 2, Cycle 4" -

    https://modernismmodernity.org/forum...g-anne-spencer

    The following Abstract is by Jenny Hyest from "Not Entirely Secular, Not Entirely Sacred: Woman, Modernism, and Religion" http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/...n_tab_contents -

    Abstract:
    Although Anne Spencer has been regarded as one of the significant female poets of the Harlem Renaissance, less attention has been given to her role as an important innovator of American modernism. Spencer's modernist formal experiments enabled her to express and enact her feminist aspirations for modern women. Her poems, including “Before the Feast at Shushan,” “Letter to My Sister,” and “The Lemming: O Sweden!,” explore the psychodynamics of male dominance and female resistance, affirming literary modernism's liberatory potential for women in its ability to convey the affective experience of subordination and to disrupt older discursive structures rooted in masculinist ideology.
    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
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    Thank you very much, Tailor, for your post on Anne Spencer. In so many ways a lovely woman.

    I am deeply involved in preparing posts on Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston and hope to finish them soon. (That's not in any way intended to prevent other NitLetters from posting their findings/thoughts on those two authors. The more the merrier, to use a cliché.)

    I'm also halfway through writing a "spinoff" essay which will appear in a separate thread in this particular forum. The more I do research on this essay, the more material I discover. Many more names are appearing on my list, so it's a safe bet that this thread (unlike the Winter Olympics) will spill over past February 28!

    Meanwhile, keep posting and reading fellow LitNetters.

  5. #35
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    Gwendolyn B. Bennett 1903 - 1981

    Poet, journalist, columnist, fiction-writer, illustrator, artist, teacher, educator, and feminist.

    Though often overlooked, she herself made considerable accomplishments in poetry and prose. She is perhaps best known for her short story "Wedding Day", which was published in the first issue of Fire!! Bennett was a dedicated and self-preserving woman, respectfully known for being a strong influencer of African-American women rights during the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout her dedication and perseverance, Bennett raised the bar when it came to women's literature, and education.
    ... Source: Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwendolyn_B._Bennett

    Poem "Hatred" with some analysis - https://wordsmusicandstories.wordpre...lyn-b-bennett/

    "Feminism in the Jazz Age"... the poem "Usward" - https://sites.google.com/site/femini...e/journal-blog

    Poem: “To A Dark Girl”, and short story: “Wedding Day” ( both with analysis )... https://gwendolynbbennett.wordpress....dolyn-bennett/

    Paintings:

    http://iraaa.museum.hamptonu.edu/pag...nnett-Painting

    http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps...nnett/life.htm

    More poems: https://allpoetry.com/Gwendolyn-Bennett

    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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    George Marion McClellan 1860-1934

    George Marion McClellan wrote poetry and short stories in standard English, taught school, and served as a Congregational minister between 1892 and 1934. His reputation rests on his sentimental and conservative poetry. While some of his poetry expresses racial pride and race consciousness, most of his poetry does not express protest or polemics. This fact suggests the tension experienced by African American writers between racial consciousness and adherence to the dominant white literary trends. However, McClellan was concerned for his people and promoted the value and success of African Americans. He wrote within white literary mainstream in order, perhaps, to illustrate the humanity of the African American.
    Source: http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articl...1860-1934.html

    More: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/mcclell...rion-1860-1934

    Book digitized by Emory University: Poems by George Marion M’Clellan: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?...iew=1up;seq=11

    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor STATELY

    P.S. Thank you admin !
    Enchant Me

    Your very being a desire for answer
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    5-14-2005

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky;

    I am deeply involved in preparing posts on Richard Wright ...


    I am interested in reading your views of Wright's under rated "Man of All Work" which deals with black American masculinity and gender roles in the face of economic & social injustices.
    “... by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord ... I am now, as before, a Catholic and will always remain so.”

    --- Adolf Hitler

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    Richard Wright (1908-1960)

    Now we have come to a Supernova among Black American writers: Richard Wright (1908-1960.)

    Born in Mississippi, he was the grandson of slaves; some of his ancestors se served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

    Richard Wright was an outstanding student; as an eight grader he wrote a short story that was published in a newspaper covering his Black community It is nothing short of miraculous that Wright was able to excel in studies under the shadow of school segregation. The unfair conditions under which Black children endeavored to learn would only begin to ameliorate in 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education.

    Though Richard Wright had been born well after the turn of the century, his right to an education was doubly threatened--not merely by "separate but equal" statutes but bythe dictates of customs held over from the in the antebellum South as well. Before the Civil War the idea of educating black children and adults was forbidden not merely by individual slave owners but by iron-clad laws in several states. Both blacks and whites faced severe punishments for attempting to teach a black person to read. A fictional example of this can be found in the novels of Charles Johnson and more recently in a Independent Lens documentary broadcast on PBS.

    Such an insidious aspect of racism continued through the early decades of the 20th century with subtle yet insidious barriers against Blacks pursuing higher learning. From his youth well into adulthood, Wright relied on his own resources for learning since he could not depend on any school system willing to fulfill his educational needs. In any case, circumstances impelled him to abandon formal schooling around the age of 12 in order to support his disabled mother and younger brother. A lifelong autodidact, Wright found comfort and illumination through reading.

    In his comprehensive essay on Richard Wright, Louis Menand of The New Yorker illustrates how reading provided not only enlightenment but also solace. “Wright loved literature intimately,” Menand writes, “as you might love a person who has rescued you from misery or danger. Literature, he said, was the first place in which he had found his inner sense of the world reflected and ratified. Everything else, from the laws and mores of Southern apartheid to the religious fanaticism of his own family (he grew up mostly in the house of his maternal grandmother, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, who believed that storytelling was a sin), he experienced as pure hostility.”

    A well-known anecdote illustrates how institutional barriers warred against him by denying him lending privileges at a public library. As he related in one of the chapters in his autobiography, Black Boy, he found a “workaround” to evade this injustice. A white co-worker lent Richard his own library card along with a note asking the librarian to allow Richard borrow books.

    When Wright and his family moved to Chicago in 1927, his literary activities brought him into the realm of leftist organizations, including the Communist Party among whose members opportunistically latched onto the Black cause in order to advance their broader ideology. Such exploitation apparently was common; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man includes a fictional representation of duplicity within a Communist cell. Initially embracing some of the revolutionary policies, Wright eventually grew disillusioned with the party, after some members exhibited their own racist tendencies, and in at least one incident, a violent way. In a later volume of his autobiography, Wright wrote about his experiment with communism, also published in Richard Crossman’s anthology, The God That Failed.

    By 1937, Richard Wright had moved out of Chicago to New York. As Wright’s literary career evolved, a different problem –- aesthetic rather than sociological, this time -- presented in the fact that Richard Wright could not find any substantial bodies of literary works by Black authors. This cultural gap or literary divide meant that at the time Richard Wright decided to express the experience of being a black person in America, there were no models or precedents. Everything up to that point had been filtered through what Toni Morrison called “the white gaze.” As Wright himself put it, “[F]or my race possessed no fictional works dealing with such problems, had no background in such sharp and critical testing of experiences no novels that went with a deep and fearless will down to dark roots of life.”

    It was around this point that his writing had begun to venture out beyond appearances in periodicals and literary journals with the publication of a book-length collection of his short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children in 1938. The subject matter of the pieces authentically represented the experience of black people under dominant white rule.

    By 1940 Wright created this very novel for which there had been no precedent: Native Son. Just as the protagonist in Toni Morrison’s 1993 novel Beloved was based on a historical figure, Wright’s character, Bigger Thomas, derived from the notorious case of a real-life criminal named Robert Noxon. In the early sections of the novel Bigger Thomas trudges through deprivation and squalor in Depression era Chicago. Not far into the book the reader gets the impression that it is as much the environment as the titular character who is the villain.

    In order to defuse what is actually an innocent action, Bigger causes a death, the unintended consequences of which escalate into another murder and extortion. The final section of the book deals with his arrest and trial in which Bigger is represented by an attorney who sees Bigger as a case study with ideological underpinnings. The defense attorney does present the argument that the actual cause of Bigger’s crime was that this corrupt culture driven by institutional racism caused Bigger’s crime, whereas, the prosecutor attempts to prove that Bigger was responsible for his own actions. At this point, Bigger has been further diminished as he has become a pawn in the legal tug-o-war, on one side a sociological symbol and on the other a vicious criminal. In both instances, is deprived of autonomy as an individual. Though conventionally unrepentant, Bigger is subtly shown to have reaches some point of self-recognition.

    Across the country Native Son earned by critical and commercial success. The first best-seller by a Black novelist, Native Son also was the first such novel be chosen as a selection for the Book of The Month Club. Likewise it was a best-seller and ultimately The Modern Library named it Number 20 on its list of the Best 100 Novels of the Twentieth Century.

    Evidently readers were divided into two camps: one faction regarded the “literary honesty” of Native Son as an extraordinary work of art rather than a sociological treatise. As Irving Howe proclaimed in his 1963 essay, “Black Boys and Native Sons”: “The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need, it made impossible a repetition of the old lies ... [and] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture." Howe said that white liberals were moved by the shock of recognition and acknowledged their tacit complicity in the system.

    On the other hand, one can surmise that a smaller group of readers saw Bigger Thomas’s rage and lack of control not as a metaphor of oppression but rather as a representation of a long-held stereotype of the “angry black man”– confirming their age-old bias in printed form. This is exactly the kind of reaction some of Wright’s fellow writers worried about. James Baldwin, tempered his initial enthusiasm for his mentor’s novel by criticizing its “unmitigated violence,” as he championed for more positive images in Baldwin’s critical book, Notes on a Native Son, which, as Irving Howe points out, urges Black writers to move beyond “the novel of protest” toward heroes who are neither victims nor revolutionaries.

    Louis Menand’s view differs from that of both Howe and Baldwin. He writes, “The evil of modern society isn’t that it creates racism but that it creates conditions in which people who don’t suffer from injustice seem incapable of caring very much about people who do.”

    This revelation, as well as Wright’s other positions on race and society were, as Menand points out, formed by his own experiences such as related in the 1945 appearance of Black Boy, the best known of his autobiographical volumes. It is through Wright’s own accounts that we discover how his attitudes toward society were formed.

    Richard Wright spent the later years of his life as an expatriate in Paris, where he wrote his last works including The Outsider, published in 1953. A posthumous collection of short stories called Eight Men contains the story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” a superb account of an incident of a youth’s attempt to venture into manhood, symbolized by the purchase of a shotgun. This story, like part of the plot of Native Son, shows how outside forces can affect one’s life despite the individual’s intentions.


    Richard Wright’s literary reputation has endured because of his impact upon America’s consciousness – and conscience – but also for his artistic achievement in presenting truths about the universal human condition.


    Sources:

    Louis Menand, “The Hammer and The Nail” in The New Yorker, July 20, 1992. (A brilliant, eminently readable piece by a 2016 winner of the Medal of Honor from the National Endowment for the Humanities.)

    Irving Howe, “Black Boys and Native Sons“ originally published in Dissent, Autumn, 1963, available online from Univ. of Penn.org.

    “Tell Them We Are Rising,” an excellent documentary film shown on the Independent Lens series, airdate February 20,2018. Check pbs.org

    Reader’s Encyclopedia


    The Story and Its Writer, edited by Ann Charters, published by Bedord Books, St. Martin’s Press, 1995. (A comprehensive anthology that includes essays by the writers themselves, this volume is invaluable for students of modern and contemporary short fiction.)
    Last edited by AuntShecky; Today at 03:42 PM. Reason: mixed metaphor; italicizing titles,etc.

  9. #39
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    James Monroe Whitfield 1822–1871

    From the Introduction of the eText that follows:

    Hailed as a poetic genius in California, Whitfield achieved little commercial success in his lifetime, and by the time of his death in 1871, he had begun to assume a somewhat invisible place within African American literary and cultural history. But he never quite vanished, remaining, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a defining, if hard to detect,
    presence.
    eText: The Works of James Monroe Whitfield - https://the-eye.eu/public/Books/Poet...can%20Poet.pdf

    Source for the following: https://muse.jhu.edu/book/19092

    "The Works of James M. Whitfield
    America and Other Writings by a Nineteenth-Century African American Poet - Edited by Robert S. Levine and Ivy G. Wilson

    Publication Year: 2011

    Levine and Wilson compile and annotate Whitfield's extant writings, both poetry and prose, and they offer significant new biographical information in a fulsome introduction to the volume. This book restores Whitfield to his rightful place in the arts and politics of his day. Whitfield's essays, which are little known to present-day scholars, situate him in relation to Douglass, Martin Delany, Frances Harper, and George Boyer Vashon, among others, and they shed much light on his poetry. This book also contributes to the on- going rethinking of African American writing in this period, underscoring the importance of poetry and periodical culture to black writing as well as the importance of the debate on emigration.

    Published by: The University of North Carolina Press"

    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor STATELY

    p.s. link to GAMMA: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e...AwjJkFoDaM/pub
    Last edited by tailor STATELY; Today at 09:07 AM. Reason: broken link / GAMMA link
    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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