“This is the difficult miracle of Black poetry in America: that we persist, published or not, and loved or unloved: we persist.” – June Jordan in her 1985 essay The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America; or, Something like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley
Covering 250 years of ‘struggle and song’, Kevin Young’s anthology presents 246 poets from pioneering Phillis Wheatley in the colonial period to the present. At some 1170 pages, including 968 pages of poetry, it is the most comprehensive and ambitious up-to-date anthology of African American poetry we have, with extensive biographical notes, notes on individual poems, note on the text & acknowledgments, and an index of poets, titles, and first lines.
The poetry itself is divided into eight linked sections: One: “Bury Me in a Free Land” (1770-1899), Two: “Lift Every Voice” (1900-1918), Three: “The Dark Tower” (1919-1936), Four: “Ballads of Remembrance” (1936-1959), Five: “Ideas of Ancestry” (1959-1975), Six: “Blue Light Sutras” (1976-1989), Seven: “Praise Songs for the Day” (1990-2008), and Eight: “After the Hurricane” (2009-2020), paying tribute to the poets who wrote the poems in which these lines appear.
The ‘visionary women writers’ that are the focus of Carmen L. Phelps’s reconsideration of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) in Chicago are poets Johari Amini (1935-) and Carolyn M. Rodgers (1940-2010), and the poet, novelist, playwright, and biographer Angela Jackson (1951-).
Even as they would later on dance to different drummers, leaving quite different legacies, their early careers were closely intertwined through their involvement with leading organizations, institutions and key figures of Chicago’s Black Arts Movement ...
“But as I have asserted the relativity of the “time” and the “place” and having reduced the experience of “self” to a state of consciousness, this must be considered, above all, a record of a voyage of the mind” – Vincent O. Carter, in his Introduction to the 1973 edition of his memoir
Originally published by the John Day Company in 1973 to “abysmal sales,” after almost half a century Dalkey Archive Press has finally reissued Vincent O. Carter’s The Bern Book: A Record of a Voyage of the Mind in a paperback edition.*
In his preface to the new edition Harvard scholar Jesse McCarthy calls it “one of the ‘shadow books’ of African American literature … those missing works, both real and imagined, which haunt the tradition like a phantom limb” – ‘shadow books’ a phrase he borrows from Kevin Young, poet and editor of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (Library of America, 2020).
“She was exactly what we’d been waiting for, this “skinny Black girl, descended from slaves,” showing us our true selves, our human heritage, our heart … As her words washed over us, they healed our wounds and resurrected our spirits” – Oprah Winfred in her foreword to Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb (Viking, 2021), Gorman the sixth and at twenty-two America’s youngest presidential inaugural poet
As we look at the printed version of Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States of America on 20 January 2021, we may be looking in the wrong direction.
It is a poem steeped in American and African American history, past and present, using or alluding to the rhetoric found in foundational documents of American democracy ...
Last year, 2020, novelist Walter Mosley (1952-) won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and this year he has just published Blood Grove, book number fifteen in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, and the first new Easy Rawlins in five years. With a total of more than 50 titles to his name, the recognition seems well deserved.
Walter Mosley started out as the new Raymond Chandler (or Dashiell Hammett) with the classic Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), the first of his Easy Rawlins mysteries. Then he decided to write a new book every year (see the non-fiction This Year You Write Your Novel, 2007), ending up sounding more like Ross McDonald.
In 1941, Richard Wright had just published Native Son (1940), and a few years earlier Zora Neale Hurston had brought out Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), both novels now recognized as classics of African American literature.
While Hurston’s novel could be said to point back to, or be a late masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Wright’s Native Son inaugurated a new era of social realism.
Three minor 1930s novelists of the rural South, whose novels are excerpted in The Negro Caravan, would seem to span the years in between: George Wylie Henderson (1904-1965), George W. Lee (1894-1976), and Waters Edward Turpin (1910-1968).