Happy Saturday! It's time again to raise awareness for Black literature through our Acknowledgement Series. We are on our seventh post in this series exploring the works of influential Black writers and poets both historical and modern. In each post we feature the lives and literature of four different artists to help raise awareness of how Black and minority voices within the publishing industry are still massively underrepresented. Today we're learning all about Jacqueline Woodson, Amiri Baraka, Phillis Wheatley, and James Weldon Johnson.
To see the other amazing people we've showcased in this series so far, check out the main series page on my blog here. We've featured people like Barak Obama, Maya Angelous, Fredrick Douglass, Malcolm X, Oprah Winfrey, and many more!
Our first writer of note is Jacqueline Woodson. She is best known for her many published works for children and adolescents.
Here are some of her works:
Published in 2000, a novel.
This is the story of three remarkable young men; brothers who have only each other to rely on and who must decide whether they'll overcome their challenges or let it tear them apart. Nothing is like it used to be. If it were, Mama would still be alive. Papa wouldn't have died. Thirteen-year-old Lafayette's older brother, Charlie wouldn't have done time at a correctional facility. And oldest brother Ty'ree would have gone to college instead of having to work full time to support the three of them. If things were the same, Lafayette wouldn't be so full of questions, like why Mama had to die, why Charlie hates him so much now, and how they're all supposed to survive when everything is falling apart.
Published in 2006.
From slavery to freedom, through segregation, freedom marches and the fight for literacy, the tradition they called Show Way, maps for slaves to follow to freedom, has been passed down by the women in Jacqueline Woodson's family as a way to remember the past and celebrate the possibilities of the future. Beautifully rendered in Hudson Talbott's luminous art, this moving, lyrical account pays tribute to women whose strength and knowledge illuminate their daughters' lives.
Find it here.
Published in 2007, a novel.
Woodson takes readers on a journey into a young girl's heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface. Frannie hasn't thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy. There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he is not white. Full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light: her brother Sean's deafness, her mother's fear, the class bully's anger, her best friend's faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.
After Tupac and D Foster
Published in 2008, a novel.
D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. The day she enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur’s rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he’s coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac’s lyrics become more personal for all of them.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Published in 2014, the story of her childhood.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Amiri Baraka is a man whose accomplishments in the literary world were deemed controversial and at times unpublishable. In the 1960s he co-founded the Black Arts Movement, promoting a black nationalist perspective that would influence an entire generation of artists.
Here are some of his works:
Published in 1964, two plays in one book.
Centered squarely on the Negro-white conflict, both Dutchman and The Slave are radical plays- in ideas, in language, in honest anger. They illuminate a deadly serious problem and bring an eloquent and exceptionally powerful voice to the American theatre. Dutchman opened in New York City on March 24, 1964, to perhaps the most excited acclaim ever accorded an off-Broadway production and shortly thereafter received the Village Voice's Obie Award. The Slave, which was produced off-Broadway the following fall, continues to be the subject of heated critical controversy.
The Baptism and The Toilet
Published in 1967, two earlier plays in one book.
The Baptism and The Toilet are two of LeRoi Jones' earliest plays. The Baptism, a viciously comic assault on diverse hypocrisies--religious, social, sexual--which inform contemporary American life, and The Toilet, a tough, relentless study of tenderness crushed and destroyed by an adolescent code of violence, comprise a pair of the most powerful one-act plays to be produced in New York in years.
A Black Mass
Published in 1966, a collection of plays with an introduction from Lindsay Barrett.
These four one-act plays deal with the African-American experience of today. Their central elements are love and hatred echoed in violently explosive words, actions, thoughts and metaphor. The sum total of three hundred years of contained fury, they are powerful statements about the real meaning of white oppression of black people. In their militancy and anger, they perfectly express the mood and frustrations of black America and are as relevant today as when they were first publicly performed.
The System of Dante's Hell
Published in 1965, with a new introduction by Woodie King Jr.
This 1965 novel is a remarkable narrative of childhood and youth, structured on the themes of Dante's Inferno: violence, incontinence, fraud, treachery. With a poet's skill Baraka creates the atmosphere of hell, and with dramatic power he reconstructs the brutality of the black slums of Newark, a small Southern town, and New York City. The episodes contained within the novel represent both states of mind and states of the soul--lyrical, fragmentary, and allusive.
Tales of The Out and The Gone
Published in 1968, a collection of short fiction.
Comprising short fiction from the early 1970s to the twenty-first century, most of which has never been published, Tales of the Out & the Gone reflects the astounding evolution of America’s most provocative literary anti-hero. The first section of the book, “War Stories,” offers six stories enmeshed in the volatile politics of the 1970s and 1980s. The second section, “Tales of the Out & the Gone,” reveals Baraka’s increasing literary adventurousness, combining an unpredictable language play with a passion for abstraction and psychological exploration.
Published in 1963, social commentary.
Baraka's his classic work on the place of jazz and blues in American social, musical, economic, and cultural history. From the music of African slaves in the United States through the music scene of the 1960's, Baraka traces the influence of what he calls "negro music" on white America, not only in the context of music and pop culture but also in terms of the values and perspectives passed on through the music. In tracing the music, he brilliantly illuminates the influence of African Americans on American culture and history.
Find it here.
Phillis Wheatley was the first African American woman to be published for poetry in the United States. As a slave, this was a monumental development, as it opened doors previously denied to black writers everywhere.
Here is her most famous work:
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Published in 1773, a book of poems.
The first ever published book of poetry by an Black woman, its significance was huge. It challenged the perceptions of Blacks within colonial society and what they could accomplish. It opened doors for other writers of color whereas before there were no opportunities. It consists of 28 poems.
James Weldon Johnson is best known for his activism for the Civil Rights Movement. He was known for his poetry, writings, and anthologies during the Harlem Renaissance.
Here are some of his works:
Fifty Years and Other Poems
Published in 1917, poetry.
A Collection of early 20th Century poems by Johnson. Here is a prominent African American writing optimistic poems about race relations in America 110 years ago.
God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse
Published in 1927, poetic sermons.
In God's Trombones, one of his most celebrated works, inspirational sermons of African American preachers are reimagined as poetry, reverberating with the musicality and splendid eloquence of the spirituals. This classic collection includes “Listen LordA Prayer,” “The Creation,” “The Prodigal Son,” “Go Down DeathA Funeral Sermon,” “Noah Built the Ark,” “The Crucifixion,” “Let My People Go,” and “The Judgment Day.”
Saint Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems
Published in 1935, select poems.
This selection of more than forty poems includes both uncompromising indictments of racial injustice and celebrations of the triumphs of African-Americans.
The Book of American Negro Poetry
Published in 1922, anthology.
Edited by Johnson, an anthology of poems written by Africa Americans. The preface provides the reason for the anthology and what the reader can expect.
The Book of Negro Spirituals
Published in 1925, anthology.
Edited by Johnson, an anthology. In two elegant and masterly prefaces, James Weldon Johnson discusses the origin and history of more than 120 of the most significant spirituals known. Favorites like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Deep River," and "Go Down, Moses" are arranged for voice and piano by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and considered within their African tradition.
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). All images of the writers themselves came from https://www.wikipedia.org/. Dates accessed 7/30/20 and 7/31/20.
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