Five Great African-American Writers
February 04, 2011
African-American literature has always been an integral part of American culture—even if it has not always been recognized as such. Here are five African-American writers to read for Black History Month, or any time at all.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784): Born in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was brought to North America as a small child. Slavery, however, could not keep her soul from singing or her pen from writing. Her poetry lives on: haunting and lilting, hoping and loving.
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938): One of the most stirring voices of the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson’s writings and leadership still command attention. In God’s Trombones, Johnson retells favorite biblical passages with the rhythm of jazz music, and in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, he shows us a life marred by regret, pain, and self-hatred.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891?-1960): A famed folklorist and anthropologist, Hurston is remembered for her dialect-driven narratives and fanciful storytelling. In her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a young woman goes into the world seeking love and a home, while books like Tell My Horse recount Hurston’s own experiences in Jamaica and Haiti.
Alex Haley (1921-1992): With a little tenacity and a lot of research, Haley reminded the world of stories it had forgotten. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, based on interviews with the revolutionary leader, is what put Haley on the map; Roots; the Saga of an American Family is what kept him there. Both tell stories of injustice and the quest for freedom.
Patricia McKissack (1944- ): Working as a teacher showed her what books were needed, and working as an editor taught her how to write them. Since then, McKissack (along with her husband Frederick) has written over one hundred books for children about African-American life, folklore, and history. In Color Me Dark, a young woman faces hatred from both inside and out of her community, while Rebels Against Slavery tells the true stories of slaves who fought back.
Lone Jack Branch