The word "acknowledgement" has two meanings. The first is the acceptance of the truth or existence of something, the second is an author's or publisher's statement of indebtedness to others, typically printed at the beginning of a book. We felt that this was the perfect word for our series recognizing influential Black writers and poets, who contributed significantly to literature and the world. In today's feature we will be honoring Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, and Richard Wright.
Though they shared their perspectives with the world, not all got the recognition they deserved. The names we choose to give power, have power. That's the reason for this feature. To give a greater priority to those who have been overlooked, underappreciated, and sometimes straight-up ignored. To help bridge the divide and diversify the names we see on the bookshelves in stores. To shine a light on lives that deserve to be highlighted.
Today we begin by recognizing Alice Walker, a writer well-know for her works of activism both on paper and in the world.
Here's a closer look at her works:
The Color Purple
Published in 1982, Walker's most famous novel.
An story spanning forty years in the life of Celie, an African-American woman living in the South who survives horrendous abuse and bigotry. After Celie's abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing "Mister" Albert Johnson, things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister in Africa.
Published in 1976, her second novel.
This novel takes place in the American South in the 1960s. It follows Meridian Hill, a courageous young woman who dedicates herself heart and soul to her civil rights work, touching the lives of those around her even as her own health begins to deteriorate. Hers is a lonely battle, but it is one she will not abandon, whatever the price or sacrifices.
The Third Life of Grange Copeland
Published in 1970, her first novel.
Grange Copeland is a black tenant farmer who is forced to leave his land and family in search of a better future. He heads North but discovers that the racism and poverty he experienced in the South are, in fact, everywhere. When he returns to Georgia years later he finds that his son Brownfield has been imprisoned for the murder of his wife. But hope comes in the form of the third generation as the guardian of the couple's youngest daughter, Grange Copeland, who glimpses a chance of both spiritual and social freedom.
We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness
Published in 2006, an inspiring novel.
Drawing equally on Walker’s spiritual grounding and her progressive political convictions, each chapter concludes with a recommended meditation to teach us patience, compassion, and forgiveness. Her novel encompasses some of the greatest challenges of our times and in it she encourages readers to take faith in the fact that, despite the daunting predicaments we find ourselves in, we are uniquely prepared to create positive change.
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens
Published in 1984, her first nonfiction work.
Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Among the contents are essays about other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid memoir of a scarring childhood injury and her daughter's healing words.
An advocate for African American needs, Ellison used his words to draw attention to issues within the Black community in a meaningful and impactful way. He changed the fabric of American Literature forever with his novel Invisible Man.
Here's a closer look at his works:
Published in 1952, Ellison's most famous novel.
As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying "battle royal" where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ellison's nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators. With this novel, Ellison changed the very fabric of American literature.
Shadow and Act
Published in 1964, the equivalent of an episodic autobiography.
Ellison reveals his idiosyncratic and often contrarian brilliance in this novel. He refutes both black and white stereotypes of what an African American writer should say or be in his trademark intellectual incisiveness and supple, stylish prose. He examines his antecedents and in so doing illuminates the literature, music, and culture of both black and white America.
Going to the Territory
Published in 1986, a collection of seventeen essays.
Ellison provides fresh readings of William Faulkner and Richard Wright, along with new perspectives on the music of Duke Ellington and the art of Romare Bearden. He analyzes the subversive quality of black laughter, the mythic underpinnings of his masterpiece Invisible Man, and the extent to which America's national identity rests on the contributions of African Americans.
Published in 1999, a novel.
As a young man, Adam Sunraider was Bliss, an orphan taken in by Negro preacher Daddy Hickman and raised to be a preacher himself. Bliss's history encompasses the joys of young southern boyhood; bucolic days as a filmmaker, lovemaking in a field in the Oklahoma sun. And behind it all lies a mystery: how did this chosen child become the man who would deny everything to achieve his goals?
Flying Home and Other Stories
Published in 1996, a collection of thirteen stories.
The tales in Flying Home range in setting from the Jim Crow South to a Harlem bingo parlor, from the hobo jungles of the Great Depression to Wales during the Second World War. Six of these stories remained unpublished during Ellison's lifetime and were discovered among the author's effects in a folder labeled "Early Stories." But they all bear the hallmarks of his classic style-the thematic reach, musically layered voices, and sheer ebullience.
Three Days Before The Shooting...
Published in 2010, the unfinished novel.
Three Days Before the Shooting . . . gathers together all the parts of Ellison's unfinished book, including three major sequences never before published. Set in the frame of a deathbed vigil, the story is a gripping multigenerational saga centered on the assassination of the controversial, race-baiting U.S. senator Adam Sunraider, who’s being tended to by “Daddy” Hickman, the elderly black jazz musician turned preacher who raised the orphan Sunraider as a light-skinned black in rural Georgia.
Maya Angelou has led an extraordinary life. Through facing adversity, overcoming challenges, trying on new identities, being an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, and so much more she has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in both life and literature.
Here's a closer look at her works:
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Published in 1969, her autobiography.
Angelou's autobiography describing the early years of her life. The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 16. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice.
On The Pulse of Morning
Published in 1993, inaugural poem.
Angelou read this poem at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993. With her public recitation, Angelou became the second poet in history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, and the first African American and woman. Her audio recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award in the "Best Spoken Word" category.
Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now
Published in 1993, her first book of essays.
It was published shortly after she recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration. It is a series of short essays, often autobiographical, along with two poems, and has been called one of Angelou's "wisdom books" about being a woman, living well, the power of the word, and the power to spirituality mold your life.
The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou
Published in 1995, an autobiography.
An autobiography about Angelou's childhood growing up in Arkansas, a lesser known time in her life. Written in the same signature style that the poet is known for.
The Heart of a Woman
Published in 1981, her fourth autobiography.
This encompasses her life in NYC. At the Harlem Writers Guild, her love for writing rekindles. She responds to the turbulent times by becoming the northern coordinator of Martin Luther King's history-making quest. During, she promises her heart to one man only to have it stolen, virtually on her wedding day, by a passionate African freedom fighter. Filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous characters, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, Angelou writes about her fondest dreams, deepest disappointments, and her relationship with her rebellious teenage son.
Richard Wright was an American author of novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. He wrote about racial themes that centered on the struggle of African Americans in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. He is attributed in helping change the way race was viewed in the United States in the mid-20th century.
Here are his works at a glance:
Uncle Tom's Children
Published in 1940, Wright's first book.
Set in the American Deep South, each of the powerful novellas collected here concerns an aspect of the lives of black people in the post-slavery era, exploring their resistance to white racism and oppression.
Published in 1940, a novel.
Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Bigger Thomas is doomed from the start. It's inevitable that he'll wind up in jail for assault, petty larceny, murder, or rape. This novel tells his story, one of a young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a moment of panic. A powerful reflection of poverty and the feelings of hopelessness experienced by many people in inner cities across the country, and of what it means to be black in America.
Published in 1945, an autobiography.
A classic American autobiography, a subtly crafted narrative of Wright's journey from innocence to his experiences in the Jim Crow South. An enduring story of one young man's coming of age during a particular time and place, Black Boy remains a seminal text in our history about what it means to be a man, black, and living in the American South.
Published in 1953, a novel. Introduction by Maryemma Graham, and notes section by Arnold Rampersad.
Cross Damon, a black man attempting to escape his past and start fresh in Harlem, is a man at odds with society and with himself, a man who hungers for peace but who brings terror and destruction wherever he goes. A complex narrative designed to show American racism in raw and ugly terms, a construction of the criminal mind as intelligent, introspective, and transformative.
These writers have all earned their place amongst the most influential writers in the literary world. With these short bios and lists of their works, I hope to inspire you to read and learn more about them. Happy reading!
I do not own any of the book cover images, nor the pictures of the writers. They are only used for creative purposes, not for profit. Below are my sources.
https://www.goodreads.com/ (for book cover images), with the exception of the book covers for The Color Purple, and Invisible Man which came from Wikipedia. All images of the writers themselves came from https://www.wikipedia.org/. Dates accessed 6/25/20 and 6/26/20.
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