Growing up in a town that had one black teacher on staff (and only for one year during my high school days), I recognized a deficit in my bank of African American literature and authors. So every year during Black History Month I try to expand my knowledge about black authors and/or black literary works, and every year I am amazed at the treasures I unearth. This year I’m sharing some of my newfound treasures with you. You may already be familiar with some of the titles, authors or facts and if so, great. Maybe you know of others you can share with me.
Black Literary Facts:
Octavia Butler, 1947 – 2006, was a pioneer in the sci-fi genre. She was one of few females and blacks who wrote in the genre. In 1995, she received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the coveted genius grants.
E. Lynn Harris was a groundbreaking author who died in 2009 but left an impressive literary mark. He virtually created a new genre–gay, black men in conflict and in loving relationships. His best known work is Invisible Life, 1991.
Dorothy West is recognized as one of the last surviving members of the Harlem Renaissance. She is best known for The Living Is Easy, 1948 and The Wedding, 1995.
Langston Hughes was a poet, playwright, editor and novelist. His most famous poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers was written and published a year after he graduated from high school. His home in New York City has landmark status.
Christopher J. Perry founded the Philadelphia Tribune in 1884 and this newspaper continues to operate. He began writing articles at age 14 and promoted to editor before striking out on his own to start the Tribune.
Amiri Baraka served as Poet Laureate of New Jersey and founded the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s. In addition to poems, he has written essays and dramas. He is the recipient of an Obie, NEA and Rockefeller grant.
Third World Press is the oldest and largest publisher of black thought and literature in the U.S. It was founded in 1967 by Haki R. Madhubuti, Johari Amini and Carolyn Rodgers.
Novelist Terry McMillan began her distinguished career as a Doubleday fiction contest winner. She won the American Book Award and is known for her books, Mama and Waiting to Exhale.
J. California Cooper began her writing career as a playwright. She turned her dramatic storytelling skills to fiction, publishing Homemade Love in 1986, a collection of stories which won her an American Book Award.
Zora Neale Hurston is known as the most prolific black woman writer of the first half of the 20th century. She is best known for Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dust Tracks on a Road.
Two-time Pulitzer winner August Wilson was a playwright. He is best known for The Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of plays covering ten decades.
Poet Sonia Sanchez was heavily involved with the Black Arts Movement. She is a Pew fellow and has authored more than 16 books.
James Baldwin, novelist, poet and essayist is best known for Go Tell It On The Mountain, which is considered an American classic. He often credited his stint as a preacher for turning him to writing.
Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes is a multiple award winner for her novels and other works. Some of her honors include the American Book Award, PEN, and NEA.
NY Times Bestselling author Zane publishes and writes black erotica under Strebor Books. She has taken a taboo subject and turned it into a platform of freedom for millions.
Ntozake Shange, an Obie winner is best known for her choreopoem/play For Colored Girls. Her works speak to issues that impact not just black but all women.
James Weldon Johnson is best known as the composer of Lift Every Voice and Sing, the song which the NAACP dubbed the Negro National Hymn. He was also a journalist, poet and novelist.
Gorilla, My Love was Toni Cade Bambara’s most recognized work. Its collection of stories depicted blacks in non-stereotypical fashion. She also wrote essays and scripts.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is Gil Scott Heron’s oft quoted composition. His entire body of work influenced neo soul, hip hop, and spoken word.
U.S. National Book Award and Newbery Award recipient Virginia Hamilton was the author of 41 books in multiple genres. She won every major award for children’s books.