Saturdays here at Writing It Wells are devoted to thoughts of solidarity, appreciation, and commitment to change. We recognize that the publishing industry has a lot of influence and with that influence comes the obligation to use it for the benefit of all, not just one race.
Today we are using our platform to raise awareness about diversifying the publishing industry. To this day jobs and works published remain mostly white-washed, while Black and minority voices are overlooked and underrepresented.
To remedy that, we are highlighting the lives and works of influential Black writers and poets from now until the end of September. Today we'll be honoring Roxane Gay, Claude McKay, Terry McMilan, and Jean Toomer.
To see our previous posts in this series that features names such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks, W.E.B. DuBois, Alice Walker, and Ralph Ellison, click here.
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Roxane Gay is best known for her outspoken opinions on feminism.
Here are some of her works:
Published in 2011, a debut.
The debut collection from the vibrant voice of Roxane Gay is a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.
An Untamed State
Published in 2014, a novel.
Mireille Duval Jameson is the strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons and has by all appearances, a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.
Published in 2017, a novel.
The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.
Published in 2014, a collection of essays.
In these essays, Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
Published in 2017, essays.
In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care.
Claude McKay was a Jamaican writer and poet who found his foothold in the Harlem Renaissance.
Here are some of his works:
Home to Harlem
Published in 1928, a novel.
With sensual, often brutal accuracy, Claude McKay traces the parallel paths of two very different young men struggling to find their way through the suspicion and prejudice of American society. At the same time, this stark but moving story touches on the central themes of the Harlem Renaissance, including the urgent need for unity and identity among blacks.
Published in 1929, a novel.
Lincoln Agrippa Daily, known to his drifter cohorts on the 1920s Marseille waterfront as Banjo, passes his days panhandling and dreaming of starting his own little band. At night Banjo and his buddies prowl the rough waterfront bistros, drinking, looking for women, playing music, fighting, loving, and talking - about their homes in Senegal, the West Indies, or the American South and about Garvey's Back-to-Africa Movement; about being black.
Published in 1933, a novel.
A Jamaican girl, Bita Plant, who was adopted and sent to be educated in England by white missionary benefactors, returns to her native village of Banana Bottom and finds her black heritage at war with her newly acquired culture.
Published in 1990, a novel.
Written in the late 1940s but unpublished till now, this portrayal of Black life during the Great Depression and the New Deal is virtually a sequel to the classic Home to Harlem. A complex fast-paced narrative of love, work, play and revolt in Black America during one of the most stirring periods in US history.
Amiable with Big Teeth
Published in 2017, his final novel.
The unexpected discovery in 2012 of a completed manuscript of Claude McKay's final novel. Building on the already extraordinary legacy of McKay's life and work, this colourful, dramatic novel centers on the effort by Harlem intelligentsia to organize support for the liberation of Mussolini-occupied Ethiopia, a crucial but largely forgotten event in American history.
Romance in Marseille
Published in 2020, a novel.
Buried in the archive for almost ninety years, this novel traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers, collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American. Set largely in the culture-blending Vieux Port of Marseille at the height of the Jazz Age, the novel takes flight along with Lafala, an acutely disabled but abruptly wealthy West African sailor.
Terry McMilan knew what she was capable of and unrelentingly pursued it. When she was unsatisfied with how her publishing company marketed her debut novel Mama, she wrote to thousands of booksellers, making her novel a success. From there she went on to gain national attention and top the Bestsellers list.
Here are some of her works:
Published in 1987, her debut novel.
On her own in the poor town of Point Haven, Michigan, Mildred scrimps and drinks, works and goes on welfare, struggling to raise her kids and keep her sanity. Mildred's closest bond is to her oldest daughter, Freda, and their lives parallel each other's progress from despair to hope.
Published in 1989, a romance novel.
He was tall, dark as bittersweet chocolate, and impossibly gorgeous, with a woman-melting smile. She was pretty and independent, petite and not too skinny, just his type. Franklin Swift was a sometimes-employed construction worker, and a not-quite-divorced daddy of two. Zora Banks was a teacher, singer, songwriter. They met in a Brooklyn brownstone, and there could be no walking away.
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction
Published in 1990, a collection.
A striking collection of works from authors both established and emerging, this is the first original anthology of African-American writing in over a decade. Other contributors are: Ellease Southerland, Barbara Summers, Cliff Thompson, Alice Walker, John A. Williams, and Al Young.
Waiting to Exhale
Published in 1992, a novel.
The story of friendship between four African American women who lean on each other while "waiting to exhale": waiting for that man who will take their breath away.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Published in 1996, a romance novel.
Stella Payne is forty-two, divorced, a high-powered investment analyst, mother of eleven-year-old Quincy. She does it all well, too. So what if there's been no one to share her bed with lately, let alone rock her world? Stella doesn't mind it too much; she probably wouldn't have the energy for love or its nasty fallout. But when Stella takes a spur-of-the-moment vacation to Jamaica, her world gets rocked to the core by one man in particular.
A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Published in 2001, a novel.
Much-heralded and long awaited, McMillan's tour-de-force novel introduces the Price family-matriarch Viola, her sometimes-husband Cecil, and their four adult kids, each of whom sees life-and one another-through thick and thin, and entirely on their own terms. With her hallmark exuberance and cast of characters so sassy, resilient, and full of life that they breathe, dream, and shout right off the page.
It's OK if You're Clueless: and 23 More Tips for the College Bound
Published in 2006, a guide.
McMillan brings her trademark wit and sass to every son and daughter about to take their first tentative steps into adulthood. Offering such nuggets as "Sit up straight," "Don't listen to your parents," and "Bring your laundry home," as well as "See the world" and "Read anything and everything," It's Ok If You're Clueless is packed with the commonsense advice and conversational tone that have made her novels classic bestsellers. Equal parts witty and wise, it's the perfect gift for the college bound.
Here are some of his works:
Published 1923, his only novel.
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.
An Interpretation of Friends Worship
Published in 1947, a religious text.
A religious text wherein Toomer outlines and questions what should be done in a meeting of worship, what it means to be a part of the Quaker faith, and how worship should be conducted.
The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer
Published in 1988, collected poems.
The book is divided into sections reflecting four distinct periods of creativity in Toomer's career. The Aesthetic period includes Imagist, Symbolist, and other experimental pieces, such as Five Vignettes, while Georgia Dusk and the newly discovered poem Tell Me come from Toomer' s Ancestral Consciousness period in the early 1920s. The Blue Meridian and other Objective Consciousness poems reveal the influence of idealist philosopher Georges Gurdjieff.
The Letters of Jean Toomer, 1919-1924
Published in 2006, a collection.
The Letters of Jean Toomer, 1919-1924 is the first-ever annotated collection of the author's correspondence. The letters included in the volume, most of which are in the Beinecke Library at Yale University, were written in the five years surrounding Toomer's publication of his seminal work, Cane. As such, they lend unique insight into the life, aesthetics, politics, and work of a central figure in American literature of the early twentieth century.
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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