African

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Literature

An introduction to africanamericanliterature.net

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William Gardner Smith: The Stone Face (New York Review of Books Classics, 2021 - originally published by Farrar, Straus, 1963)

“With Last of the Conquerors, The Stone Face, and Return to Black America, Smith left us with an extraordinary trilogy about the liberation, and the costs, of a black writer’s exile in Europe.” – Adam Shatz, US editor of the London Review of Books  

In A Stranger in Paris, his carefully researched introduction to the NYRB Classics reprint of The Stone Face, this is some of the information Adam Shatz gives us about the author:

William Gardner Smith was born in 1927 in a black working-class neighborhood in South Philadelphia, described by Shatz as “one of the North’s most racist cities.” At fourteen he was stripped naked and beaten with a rubber hose by police officers who felt that he “lacked proper respect.” At nineteen he was assaulted at a nightclub by a mob of white sailors who thought that his light-skinned date was a white woman. Among his first encounters with ‘the stone face’.

Kevin Young, editor: African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (LOA/Library of America, 2020)

“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.

Carmen L. Phelps: Visionary Women Writers of Chicago's Black Arts Movement (University Press of Mississippi, 2013)

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 ...

Effie Lee Newsome's Nature Poetry for Children Revisited

Effie Lee Newsome (1885-1979) is often considered to be the first African American poet to write poetry exclusively, or primarily, for children.   

Her career as a poet is closely tied to The Crisis and its editor, scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. According to Wikipedia Effie Lee Newsome began working with DuBois on The Crisis as early as 1917, contributing to DuBois’ The Brownies’ Book, his short lived monthly magazine for children (1920-1921), for which poet and novelist Jessie Redmon Fauset wrote the dedicatory poem: “To children, who with eager look/ Scanned vainly library shelf and nook,/ For History or Song or Story/ That told of Colored Peoples’ glory,–/ We dedicate The Brownies’ Book.” From 1925 to 1929 she was given her own Crisis-column for children, The Little Page ...

When Melvin Van Peebles Read His Obituary; or, The passing of a pioneer

In George Alexander’s book of interviews with thirty two African American filmmakers, Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema (Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, 2003), Melvin Van Peebles tells the following anecdote: “I’ve got this great foolproof system in the morning. I look at the paper, I read the obituaries. If I’m not there, I get out of bed.”

On 21 September 2021 Van Peebles must have read his own obituary. He did not get out of bed. Born in Chicago in 1932, he was 89 years old when he passed away in his home in New York. 

Hope and History; or, The inaugural poetics of Amanda Gorman

“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 ...