African American Authors
African American literature is the body of literature produced by writers of African descent. It traces its origins to the pioneering works of late 18th century African American authors, such as, Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, who dealt with slave narratives. Their tradition is being continued by authors, such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Walter Mosley, who are today ranked among the top American writers.
The themes explored by African American authors include the role of African Americans within the larger American society, African-American culture, racism, slavery, and equality. African American literature has also attempted to incorporate within itself oral forms such as spirituals, sermons, gospel music, blues and rap.
Over time, as the place of African Americans in the larger American society changed, so did the themes explored by African American authors. Before the Civil War, slavery was the most explored issue. The beginning of the 20th century saw authors such as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington debate the relative merits of confronting or appeasing racist attitudes in the United States. During the American Civil Rights movement, authors such as Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks dealt with racial segregation and Black Nationalism.
African American literature is now an integral part of American literature, with books such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Beloved by Toni Morrison achieving both best-selling and award-winning status.
Some prominent African American authors
James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 November 30, 1987) was an African American writer and civil rights activist best known for his novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. He deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States and is notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity. He is remarkable for having explored the complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups could be assumed.
Harriet E. Wilson (March 15, 1825 – June 28, 1900) is traditionally considered the first female African-American novelist as well as one of the first African American authors of any gender to publish a novel on the North American continent. Wilson’s autobiographical novel Our Nig was published in 1859 and shows the injustice of the indentured servitude system in the northern United States. The novel fell into obscurity soon after its publication, and received national attention only when it was rediscovered in 1982.
Maya Angelou born on April 4, 1928 is an American poet, memoirist and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. She is known for the autobiographical writings I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986). Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.