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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.