Recognition is important. In the literary industry today there is a disproportionate amount of Black and minority voices being hired and writers of color being published. Publishing is dominated by white stories and white voices, meaning that we are missing a large portion of the stories and experiences of this country. To help bring awareness to this issue, we have decided to use our platform to help give the spotlight back to influential Black writers and poets every Saturday from here on through September.
Many of these writers were underrecognized for their contributions to literature and to the world. In this post the credit goes to Octavia E. Butler, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and Alex Haley. Included are features of their individual literary works so you can easily add them to your Goodreads and reading lists.
Today we're starting with Octavia E. Butler. She started with a love of writing and a need to escape bullying at school, but soon her career took off along with her love of science fiction. She then went on to break into the science fiction world as one of the few black women published in this genre.
Here are her works:
The Patternist Series
Published from 1976-2007, a four book series.
This series has Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay's Ark, and Patternmaster in it. In ancient Africa, a female demigod of nurture and fertility mates with a powerful, destructive male entity. Together they birth a race of madmen, visionaries, and psychics who cling to civilization's margins for millenia, coming together in a telepathic Pattern just as Earth is consumed by a cosmic invasion. Now these new inhuman beings will battle to rule the transfigured world.
The Xenogenesis Series
Published from 1987-2000, a trilogy series.
Contains Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago, also known as Lilith's Brood. Lilith Iyapo (a black human woman) wakes up alone in what seems like a prison cell. She has memories of this happening before, with an enigmatic voice questioning her. She remembers a nuclear war and an earlier traffic accident in which her husband and child had been killed. The truth emerges in stages. Lilith has awakened 250 years after the war on a living Oankali, an alien race's, ship.
The Parable Series
Published in 1993, and 1998, a two-book series.
Set in the 2020s, a young woman named Lauren Oya Olamina who possesses hyperempathy, the ability to feel pain and other sensations she witnesses, begins to develop a new belief system, which she comes to call Earthseed. When the security of her home is compromised, her house destroyed, and her family murdered, she travels north with other survivors. Lauren believes that humankind's destiny is to travel beyond Earth and live on other planets, and that Earthseed is the catalyst.
Published in 1979, the first science fiction novel written by a black woman.
This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. Faced with challenges and choices, she must find the meaning within her journey, and her relationship with a white boy who she keeps on running into despite her time-defying episodes.
Published in 2005, a novel.
A young, amnesiac girl discovers she has inhuman needs and abilities that lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must also learn who is trying to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself.
Bloodchild and Other Stories
Published in 1995, and 2005, a collection of short stories.
It includes award-winning stories such as Bloodchild and Speech Sounds, as well as two new stories from Butler. Amnesty is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. The Book of Martha poses the question: What would you do if God granted you the ability, and responsibility, to save humanity from itself?
Published in 2014, features two stories.
A Necessary Being features Tahneh, a member of a dwindling race whose leadership abilities render them so valuable that their members are captured and forced to govern. When her father dies, Tahneh steps into his place, both chief and prisoner, and for twenty years has ruled without ever meeting another of her kind...until now. In her story, Childminder, a disaffected telepath connects with a young girl in a desperate attempt to help her harness her growing powers. Mentorship comes with a price and nothing is free.
Our next writer is W.E.B. Du Bois, a man of many talents, he is best known for his Black protest literature.
Here's a break-down of his works:
The Souls of Black Folk
Published in 1903, Black protest literature.
A founding work in the literature of black protest. This collection of essays, first published together in 1903, affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind. Du Bois also charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy advanced by Booker T. Washington, then the most influential black leader in America, would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.
Publication of this work helped to polarize black leaders into two groups: the more conservative followers of Washington and the more radical supporters of aggressive protest.
Black Reconstruction in America
Published in 1935, intro by David Levering Lewis.
An essay that marked a significant break with the standard academic view of Reconstruction at the time, Du Bois argued against the Dunning School's opinion that the period was a failure. It challenged the notion that downplayed the contributions of African Americans, emphasizing the role and of blacks during the Civil War and Reconstruction, framing it as a period that held promise for a worker-ruled democracy to replace a slavery-based plantation economy.
Published in 1910, the oldest black-oriented magazine in the world.
The official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois (editor), Oswald Garrison Villard, J. Max Barber, Charles Edward Russell, Kelly Miller, William Stanley Braithwaite, and Mary Dunlop Maclean. It has been in continuous print since 1910. Today, The Crisis is a quarterly journal of civil rights, history, politics and culture that seeks to educate its readers about African American and minority issues.
Dusk of Dawn
Published in 1940, Du Bois autobiography.
An autobiographical text by that examines his life and family history in the context of contemporaneous developments in race relations. It focuses on his relationship with Booker T. Washington, his reasons for leaving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and a new concept of race.
Malcolm X is a name you've heard before. His devotion and passion to the Civil Rights Movement and the Nation of Islam fueled the fire that still burns in our nation today. Highly controversial, he is regarded as one of the most influential African Americans to date.
Here is a closer look at some of his works.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Published in 1965, a powerful account of how a man became a legend. Written by Alex Haley, who is our last writer today.
Malcolm X became one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century due to his unswayable passion and ability to overcome challenges. In this riveting account, he tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca, describing his transition from hoodlum to Muslim minister. Here, the man who called himself "the angriest Black man in America" relates how his conversion to true Islam helped him confront his rage and recognize the brotherhood of all mankind.
Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements
Published in 1965, a collection of speeches.
These are the major speeches made by Malcolm X during the last tumultuous eight months of his life. In this short period of time, his vision for abolishing racial inequality in the United States underwent a vast transformation. Breaking from the Black Muslims, he moved away from the black militarism prevalent in his earlier years only to be shot down by an assassin's bullet.
Malcolm X Talks to Young People
Published in 1990, a collection of speeches he gave to youths around the world.
This includes four talks and an interview given to young people in Ghana, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the last months of his life. It also features a December 1964 debate presentation by Malcolm X at the Oxford Union in the United Kingdom, and two memorial tributes by a young socialist leader to this great revolutionary, whose example and words continue to speak the truth for generation after generation of youth.
By Any Means Necessary
Published in 1970, one of his most famous works.
A collection of speeches tracing the evolution of Malcolm X's views on political alliances, women's rights, intermarriage, capitalism, socialism, and more.
The Diary of Malcolm X
Published in 1964, a more personal work.
The heart of the book is Malcolm's impressions, his personal observations on the people he meets and the circumstances he encounters, his own feelings of trepidation and inadequacy. There are segments in which the book will be complemented by passages from Malcolm's autobiography, though in our book his immediate reactions have not been disturbed by editors.
Alex Haley embarked on a life-changing journey, pursuing the story of his ancestor, who was an African man kidnapped and enslaved in the U.S. His pursuit of knowledge and self discovery led to a story that spans multiple generations and a Pulitzer Prize.
Here are his works:
Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Published in 1976, his Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
When he was a boy in Henning, Tennessee, Alex Haley's grandmother used to tell him stories about their family that went back through the generations all the way to a man she called "the African." She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the "Kamby Bolongo" and had been out in the forest one day chopping wood to make a drum when he was set upon by four men, beaten, chained and dragged aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America. Through an amazing journey, Haley not only found the man's name and relations, but the truth about his own family's story.
Queen: The Story of an American Family
Published in 1993, finished by David Stevens.
The sequel to Roots, it tells the multigenerational story of Alex Haley's paternal family through his grandmother, Queen, the proud daughter born of a slave and a white slave owner. This was Haley's last novel before his death. He asked David Stevens to finish it in the event of his demise.
A 1973 screenplay, written by Haley.
An American blaxploitationcrimedrama film directed and starring Ron O'Neal. O'Neal reprises his role of Youngblood Priest from the 1972 film Super Fly. The film was both a critical and commercial failure.
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 Xenogenesis Series and Parable by Octavia which came from Wikipedia. All images of the writers themselves came from https://www.wikipedia.org/. Quote from W.E.B. Du Bois came from - https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/w-e-b-du-bois-quotes, all others came from Wikipedia. Dates accessed 7/2/20 and 7/3/20.
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