20th-C African American Literature

A selective list of online literary criticism for African American poets and writers of the twentieth century, including writers of the early century, Harlem Renaissance writers, Beat poets, and contemporary writers


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About African American Literature

Fisher, Dexter and Robert B. Stepto. A review of Afro-American Literature: The Reconstruction of Instruction. "The Birth of a Black New Criticism." Reviewed by John Edgar Tidwell in Callaloo 7 (Oct. 1979) [first page of article only].

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Nellie McKay, eds. "From the Soil of Suffering." A discussion with the editors of a new Norton Anthology of African American Literature. PBS Newshour, 5 March 1997.

Harris, Trudier. Publisher's page for From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature (Temple UP 1982).

McKay, Nellie. "African American Literature: Past, Present, Future." A forum on the PBS Newshour, 18 March 1997.

"The Antislavery Literature Project." Ed. Joe Lockard. U of Iowa.

"The Race and Ethnicity Collection." Reference material, essays, and other material on race and ethnicity in the United States. U of Iowa.

"Literature & Life." Chapters: From Slavery to Freedom; Renaissance; Voices of the People; Say It Loud; Choice of Weapons. A PBS presentation on African American literature includes text and video clips, and covers writers from slavery times, through the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.

"Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery." Includes a teacher's guide. PBS, October 1998.

"Black History Month." Teaching resources web site. Contains biographies of over 50 African Americans and other teaching materials. From educational publisher Gale Group.

"African Americans." An extensive list of "best of the web" sites about notable African Americans. Digital Librarian.

"Historical Overviews of The Black Arts Movement." Kaluma ya Salaam, Modern American Poetry (Univ. of Ill.)


Documentary Resources

"Documenting the American South." This web site "provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture." Library of U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Peterson, Bernard L. Early Black American playwrights and dramatic writers: a biographical directory and catalog of plays, films, and broadcasting scripts. Preview at Google Books.

Guide to the Federal Theatre Project Playscript and Radioscript Collection in the Special Collections and Archives of George Mason U.

The African slave trade, by Buxton, Thomas Fowell. A digital facsimile of the 1839 edition. From The Digital Research Library of the Univ. of Pittsburgh, which has additional digital reference materials of similar high quality.

The Charles Chestnutt Digital Archive. Ed. Stephanie Browner. An online collection of short stories, essays, poems, and a novel, with transcriptions and digital images of manuscripts, of an important African American writer before the Harlem Renaissance.


The Poets & Writers

Alexander, Elizabeth (b. 1962)

Angelou, Maya (b. 1928)

Baldwin, James (1924-1987)

Baraka, Amiri (b. 1934)

Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-2000)

Brown, Sterling (1901-1989)

Chestnutt, Charles W. (1858-1932)

Clifton, Lucille (1936-2010)

Cullen, Countee (1903-1946)

Dove, Rita (b. 1952)

Dunbar, Paul Laurence (1872-1906)

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice (1875-1935)

Ellison, Ralph (1914-1994)

Giovanni, Nikki (b. 1943)

Grimké, Angelina Weld (1880-1958)

Hayden, Robert (1913-1980)

Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)

Hurston, Zora Neale (1891-1960)

Johnson, James Weldon (1871-1938)

Kaufman, Bob (1925-1986)

Kincaid, Jamaica (b. 1949)

Larsen, Nella (1891-1964)

Lorde, Audre (1934-1992)

McKay, Claude (1889-1948)

Morrison, Toni (b. 1931)

Toomer, Jean (1894-1967)

Walker, Alice (b. 1944)

Wright, Richard (1908-1960)


Some American Forerunners

William Wells Brown. (1814?-1884) Born into slavery; he wrote Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1847). He was the first African American to publish a novel, the still widely discussed Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States (1853), which was based on rumors of the time about Thomas Jefferson's relationship with a slave woman. He is also considered the first African American to write a play, Experience; or, How to Give a Northern Man a Backbone (1856), now lost, which he recited at abolitionist meetings.

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784). She was the first African American to publish a book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)


Anti-Slavery in England

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797). Author of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, first published in 1789, which describes his capture in West Africa and experience as a slave in the West Indies and later a free man.

Aphra Behn (c. 1745-1797). Author of the novel Oroonoko, an early work in the subject of the Noble Negro, published in 1688. Dramatized in 1696 by Thomas Southerne.

Other key terms for anti-slavery in England: Montesquieu The Spirit of the Laws, Book 15, "In What Manner the Laws of Civil Slavery Relate to the Nature of the Climate" (1748); the Quakers; the Somerset case of 1772; The Dying Negro (1773), a poem by Thomas Day and John Bicknell; the Abolition Society; Thomas Clarkson; William Wilberforce; John Wesley.


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