African

American

Literature

An introduction to africanamericanliterature.net

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Gene Andrew Jarrett and Thomas Lewis Morgan, editors: The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ohio University Press, 2005)

Readers and critics who would restrict Dunbar’s expression devalue the complexity, the ambition, and the embrace of diversity that his writings represent” – poet and literary scholar Harryette Mullen     

Around the turn of the last century, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was an American literary icon, read by both white and black readers, public schools – widely segregated by race in the United States under the ‘Separate but Equal’ doctrine until 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional – named in his honor, youngsters and adults alike learning poems like An Ante-Bellum Sermon, When Malindy Sings, We Wear the Mask, and Sympathy (“I know what the caged bird feels, alas!”) by heart, and reciting them in school, in church, and at social gatherings.  

Kalamu ya Salaam: Cosmic Deputy: poetry and context 1968-2019 (University of New Orleans Press/Runagate Press, 2020)

… all cosmic deputies must commit/ a minimum of fifty-five/ random acts of kindness a day …/… freely offering/ unprovoked displays of beauty, must/ never sell what should be given …/ – Kalamu ya Salaam

In Perfection of Beauty, his preface to Cosmic Deputy, poet Afaa Michael Weaver (Spirit Boxing, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017) quotes Kalamu ya Salaam’s haiku # 58: black people believe/ in god, & i believe in/ black people, amen. Praising the “zen terseness” of a poem ... nuanced by the subtleties of Black religiosity, formal and secular.” 

The poetry of Kalamu ya Salaam, Afaa Michael Weaver writes, reveal “a spirit planted deeply inside a faith in the beauty of blackness, a sensibility … that eschews anything that would diminish the sacredness of Black culture.” Weaver continues: “The regional capital of Black culture … is New Orleans … his love of African American culture is his love of New Orleans, and his love of New Orleans is his embodiment of the precious history of Black people.”  

Haki R. Madhubuti: Taught by Women: Poems as Resistance Language, New and Selected (Third World Press, 2020)

Taught by Women is the now 80-year-old poet, publisher, and public intellectual Haki R. Madhubuti’s tribute to mostly Black, but also white women – family, writers, musicians, artists, activists, politicians, scholars, educators, athletes, and others – who have affected his life ...

In what amounts to a visual tribute, the book’s front, back and inside covers list some 375 women, organizations, institutions, and movements (you better make your own count!), their names written in red, green, and blue on a yellow background, the book thus becoming not only a book of “poems as resistance language,” but also a book of poems in celebration of the achievements of women.          

African American Poetry Beyond English; or, The Example of Sybil Kein

In the Random Notes article on The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, we wrote: “We are talking about American poetry in English only.”

A survey from 2008-2010 shows that most Americans, 79,7%, speak only English at home, while 12,6% report that Spanish is the main language spoken. Looking below at ‘African American poetry beyond English’, to Spanish we must add French, or French Creole, a language that has a long history in Louisiana, even as French – like all other American languages aside from English and Spanish – account for less than one percent of American spoken languages (see note below).  

The Spanish influence on African American (or American) poetry comes mainly via the Caribbean and countries ‘south of the border’ with large populations of Spanish-speaking  people ...

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.