African american literature

From ArticleWorld

African American literature is a genre of literature that is written by, about and sometimes specifically for African Americans. The themes in African American literature explores African Americans role in the larger society. This concerns issues of African American culture, racism, slavery and equality.


African American literature often focuses on African American culture, racism, religion, slavery, freedom and equality. This focus started with early African American writings, such as, the slave narrative genre in the early nineteenth century. Another characteristic of African American literature is that it incorporates oral poetry into itself. Oral poetry in African American culture included spirituals, African American gospel music, blues and rap. However, as with any type of literature there are disagreements as to the genre’s definitions. In addition, there are arguments over which authors and works should be included.


  • Early African American literature emergences and predates the United States as an independent country. The first prominent African American authors was poet Phyllis Wheatley (1753-84). Another early African American writer was author Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806). He was considered the first published Black writer in America. The there was William Wells Brown (1814-84) and Victor Sejour (1817-74). They produced the earliest works of fiction by African American writers.
  • In the middle of the 19th century produced the slave narrative. It is considered to be a subgenre of African American literature. Books that emerged out of this genre was Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Then there was the narratives by Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass who tried to capture the reality of slaves through their works.
  • In the Post-Slavery era, the end of slavery and American Civil war, a number of African American authors continued to write non-fiction works about the condition of African Americans in the country. The prominent writers of that period were W.E.B. Dubois, (1868-19630) who was one of the original founders of NAACP, Booker T. Washington, (1865-1915) who was educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute Black College in Alabama, and Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), publisher, journalist and crusader for Black nationalism.
  • Next, came the Harlem Renaissance which was from 1920 to 1940 and brought new attention to African American literature. The Harlem Renaissance flourished in the African American community in Harlem, New York City. Numerous Black artists, musicians, and others were producing classic works in fields for jazz to theater. The most famous writes of the renaissance is poet Langston Hughes, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer who wrote Cane, Dorothy West, Countee Cullen, and author Wallace Thurman.
  • Then came the Civil Rights Movement era. There was a large migration of African Americans during World War I and II from the south to the north. The migration fostered a new sense of independence in the Black community and help contribute to the Black urban culture seen during the Harlem Renaissance. The migration empowered the Civil Rights Movement. This made an impression on many Black writers during the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Black writers were attempting to address these issues in their writings. Writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. Then there were poets, such as, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez. In addition, there were the playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry and Amiri Baraka. Also, there were essays and books about human rights written by civil rights leaders.
  • In the 1970’s, African American works reached the mainstream. Books by Black writes were achieving best-selling and award-winning status like Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley who also went on to write The autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965. Next, was The Color Purple by novelist and poet Alice Walker. Toni Morrison who wrote The Bluest Eye Beloved and Song of Solomon. Then there were such writers like Gayl Jones, Ishmael Reed, Jamaica Kincaid, Randall Kean, and John Edgar Wideman. During this time African American writes were being accepted by academia, and a lot of colleges were offering courses in African American literature.
  • African American fiction has also crossed over to genre fiction. There was Chester Himes who wrote a series of detective novels in the 1950’s and 60’s, and the crime novels by Walter Mosley. In the genre of science fiction, fantasy, and horror there were writers like: Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Steven Barnes, Robert Fleming, Tananarive Due, Brandon Massey, Charles R. Saunders, John Ridley, John M. Faucette, Sheree Thomas and Nalo Hopkinson.