When I first started writing this Acknowledgement Series in June, I had no idea how much it would come to mean to me. I started this series because I realized that the publishing industry is grossly misrepresenting when it comes to Black and minority writers and poets. That needed to change. To help raise awareness, I decided to go back in time and start from the beginning, to cover all the influential Black writers who have graced the world with their lives and literature. I wanted to know who they were and put faces to the names, some of which I had never even heard.
It was with this journey that the realization came: All of our experiences matter, but some haven't been properly told. We have but one side of this nation's history written and credited. There are many more stories out there and it is our job as writers to tell them.
Today we honor the lives and works of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Rita Dove, Ntozake Shange, and Paul Beatty.
To see the other writers we've covered in this series, check out our Acknowledgement Series page.
Charles Waddell Chesnutt was best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity in the post-Civil War South.
Here are some of his works:
The Conjure Woman, and Other Conjure Tales
Published in 1899, his first great literary success.
Since their initial publication in 1899 they have come to be seen as some of the most remarkable works of African American literature from the Emancipation through the Harlem Renaissance. This edition reassembles for the first time all of Chesnutt's work in the conjure tale genre. It allows the reader to see how the original volume was created, how an African American author negotiated with the tastes of the dominant literary culture of the late nineteenth century, and how that culture both promoted and delimited his work.
The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color-Line
Published in 1899.
The Wife of His Youth
Her Virginia Mammy
The Sheriff's Children
A Matter of Principle
The Passing of Grandison
The House Behind the Cedars
Published in 1900, a novel.
An early masterwork among American literary treatments of miscegenation, Chesnutt’s story is of two young African Americans who decide to pass for white in order to claim their share of the American dream.
The Marrow of Tradition
Published in 1901, a novel.
This novel is based on a historically accurate account of the Wilmington, North Carolina, "race riot" of 1898, and is a passionate portrait of the betrayal of black culture in America, by an acclaimed African-American writer.
Rita Dove is a poet whose works earned her both a Pulitzer and saw her serving as Poet Laureate for years.
Here are some of her works:
Collect poems 1974-2004.
Gathering thirty years and seven books, this volume compiles Dove’s fresh reflections on adolescence in The Yellow House on the Corner and her irreverent musings in Museum. She sets the moving love story of Thomas and Beulah against the backdrop of war, industrialization, and the civil right struggles. The multifaceted gems of Grace Notes, the exquisite reinvention of Greek myth in the sonnets of Mother Love, the troubling rapids of recent history in On the Bus with Rosa Parks all celebrate Dove’s mastery of narrative context with lyrical finesse.
Published in 2009, narrative poetry.
The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travel to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto, but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poetic tale.
Published in 2004, a collection.
Dove's magnificent poems pay homage to our kaleidoscopic cultural heritage; from the glorious shimmer of an operatic soprano to Bessie Smith's mournful wail; from paradise lost to angel food cake; from hotshots at the local shooting range to the Negro jazz band in World War I whose music conquered Europe before the Allied advance. Like the ballroom-dancing couple of the title poem, smiling and making the difficult seem effortless, Dove explores the shifting surfaces between perception and intimation.
On the Bus with Rosa Parks
Published in 1999, poems.
In these brilliant poems, Dove treats us to a panoply of human endeavor, shot through with the electrifying jazz of her lyric elegance. From the opening sequence, "Cameos", to the civil rights struggle of the final sequence, she explores the intersection of individual fate and history.
Published in 1995.
In settings as various as a patio in Arizona, the bistros and boulevards of Paris, the sun-drenched pyramids of Mexico—and directly from the Greek myth itself—Rita Dove explores this relationship and the dilemma of letting go.
As a Black feminist, Ntozake Shange addressed issues relating to race and Black power in much of her work.
Here are some of her works:
Published in 1976, a novel.
This is the first section of a four part novel dealing with the lives of different women within the same family. The next three sections will be published by Heirs in San Francisco and Shameless Hussy.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf
Published in 1976, a poem.
Passionate and fearless, Shange's words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century. First published in 1975 when it was praised by The New Yorker for "encompassing...every feeling and experience a woman has ever had," for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf will be read and performed for generations to come. Here is the complete text, with stage directions, of a groundbreaking dramatic prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world
Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo
Published in 1982, a novel.
Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo is the story of three "colored girls," three sisters and their mama from Charleston, South Carolina: Sassafrass, the oldest, a poet and a weaver like her mother, gone north to college, living with other artists in Los Angeles and trying to weave a life out of her work, her man, her memories and dreams; Cypress, the dancer, who leaves home to find new ways of moving and easing the contractions of her soul; Indigo, the youngest, still a child of Charleston—"too much of the south in her"—who lives in poetry, can talk to her dolls, and has a great gift of seeing the obvious magic of the world.
Published in 1985, a novel.
This is an episodic, character-driven saga of the Black experience in St. Louis at the end of the “Fabulous Fifties,” but it is also a story about the many growing pains of a precocious, passionate, spunky young protagonist. We see Betsey fall in love; make friends; say prayers; argue with, look after, inspire, and ignore her younger siblings; run away from home; return to those who love and value her above all else; and switch from a school she knows and enjoys to a school on the other side of town where she is a minority and an outcast.
Paul Beatty was an author and associate professor of writing. He mainly writes about African American issues.
Here are some of his works:
Joker Joker Deuce
Published in 1994, his second volume of poetry.
This collection won praise for the way it "pushes the boundaries of free verse while assessing the landscapes of African American autobiography" (Bomb Magazine). In these poems, which explore aspects of race, identity, and popular culture, Beatty was honing the comic, satirical voice and vivid imagination that came to full realization in his acclaimed fiction. Joker, Joker, Deuce "moves to fierce urban rhythms, both cool and hot," writes Jessica Hagedorn. "A rush of intense visual images and electric word music."
The White Boy Shuffle
Published in 1996, his debut novel.
Beatty’s electrifying debut novel about teenage-surf-bum Gunnar Kaufman who is forced to wise up when his mother moves from suburban Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a ‘divided, downtrodden people’.
Published in 2000, a novel.
Weighing in at 320 pounds, Winston “Tuffy” Foshay, is an East Harlem denizen who breaks jaws and shoots dogs and dreams of millions from his idea Cap’n Crunch: The Movie, starring Danny DeVito. His best friend is a disabled Muslim who wants to rob banks, his guiding light is an ex-hippie Asian woman who worked for Malcolm X, and his wife, Yolanda, he married from jail over the phone. Shrewdly comical as this dazzling novel is, it turns acerbically sublime when the frustrated Tuffy agrees to run for City Council.
Published in 2008, a novel.
Beatty turns his incisive eye to man’s search for meaning and identity in an increasingly chaotic world. After creating the perfect beat, DJ Darky goes in search of Charles Stone, a little-known avant-garde jazzman, to play over his sonic masterpiece. His quest brings him to a recently unified Berlin, where he stumbles through the city’s dreamy streets ruminating about race, sex, love, Teutonic gods, the prevent defense, and Wynton Marsalis in search of his artistic—and spiritual—other.
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.
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