Tuesday, April 16, 2013

6 Texts That Aid in the Study of African American Literature

[By Simone Savannah]

After returning from the College Language Association (CLA), I wondered what I should write blog about this week. I learned so many new things through networking and listening to my colleagues and professors speak, and I wondered how I could take all of it in and simultaneously offer knowledge to others.

And because The Project on the History of Black Writing is dedicated to recovering and reclaiming literary contributions by African Americans as well as promoting an awareness of black authors, I’d compiled a list of a few books and essays that I find useful and encouraging as a creative and critical writer.

Edited by our very own Dr. Maryemma Graham and Dr. Jerry Ward, this book offers a comprehensive history of four hundred years of Black writing. It provides scholarship on African American literary traditions and discusses new approaches to studying texts in the field.

I was first introduced to this book in an undergraduate English course on African American art and literature. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie Y. McKay present over 250 years of writing and the work of 120 African American writers as well as scholarship on African American literary traditions and periods. This text features a two-set audio companion CD as well as eleven complete longer works of writers, such as James Weldon Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, and Lorraine Hansberry.

This anthology offers a “literary portrait” of African American poetics forms that explore issues of slavery, black culture, sexuality, love, spirituality, death, etc. This text also features scholarship on the styles, visions, and culture of African American poets.

In this essay, Zora Neal Hurston works to frame the literary and artistic contributions of African Americans. She discusses elements, including mimicry and peculiar dialect as nuances of African American language and expression. (This essay is included in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.)

Richard Wright identities the role he believes African American writers should play in the collective consciousness of African Americans. In his essay, critiques he focuses on the working class as to advocate for a pure, authentic social consciousness.

Written by Langston Hughes and first appearing in The Nation, this essay is known as the manifesto of the Harlem Renaissance. He urges African Americans writers and artist to embrace their own culture instead of abiding by the standards prescribed to by them by white people. (This essay is included in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.)

HBW is currently working with Rap Genius to provide an extensive, collaborative break down of novels, poems, short stories, and essays. We would like to invite you to assist us in annotating the three essays listed above. Assisting us in this digital humanities initiative may prove useful for your studies in African American art and literature.

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