What are black people writing about today? Can someone please shed some light on African-American literature? When I go into a bookstore about 95 percent of the books in the 'African-American' fiction section look something like this:
Are we to assume that black people can only write smut? No—that can’t be right. These politically correct labels have many people confused. African-American literature is about black people, for black people and by black people, right? No, not quite. When I read and re-read Ellison's Invisible Man (amazing by the way), his message about invisibility can’t only appeal to people with brown skin. Or can it? I've read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (also amazing)...but does this even count? It's about a black woman's contribution to science and the present-day struggle of her family, but it's written by a white woman (Rebecca Skloot).
I’m vexed. What is African-American literature? Or more relevant to me, what is the state of African-American fiction? I think about foundational authors; Frederick Douglass, Toni Morrison, James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou (to name a few) What did their writing mean in the past? What does it mean now and for the future?
I think that in the past—that is to say, before our ‘post-racial’ society—their stories told of a consciousness forgotten, a subconscious element of an era defined by racial separation and degradation. They were the voices of history (little ‘h’) that History could not suppress. I came across this article by English professor Kenneth Warren, which does a lot better job of explaining the historical aspect than I can.
Here’s what I took from the article:
- AA lit. has come to an end which is not something to regret or lament.
- AA lit. is of a historical period, the Jim Crow era, a Jim Crow phenomenom.
- No one can write AA literature just as no one can write Elizabethan literature.
- The society that gave rise to AA lit is not one that we have or want now.
Definitions of AA lit (according to others):
- Black authors that reworked rhetorical practices, myths, folklore and tradition from the African continent.
- A prolonged argument with slavery.
- Refutation against the charges of black inferiority.
- An instrument that served to fight against Jim Crow.
*Writing was a function of changing the world, explicit propaganda, the primary subject matter was the welfare of the race*
I starred the last talking point because it best sums up my thoughts on what African-American literature was in the past…I don’t know that the same can or should be applied to African-American literature of today or of the future. If you read the comments at the bottom, I think you’ll find there isn’t 100 percent agreement on the question or answer. One person left a link to another website: The African-American Book Club
Do you see what I see? I see a paused video clip with the image of a man’s bare chest plastered with female hands with really long fake nails. Is this the future? Now, in all fairness, I haven’t had a chance to check out the entire website (which claims to be the #1 site for African-American Literature) The image really turned me off to exploring the website any further…I’ve digressed a little. Let’s bring it back.
So does African-American literature exist? I really want it to. I know there has to be some contemporary authors out there, who can write some creative, engaging and thought-provoking stuff.
I look at my TBR list for the reading challenges and only have three books written by black authors (Yesterday Will Make You Cry - Chester Himes, Devil In A Blue Dress – Walter Mosley, and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man – James Weldon Johnson). Fortunately, the article by Kenneth Warren gave me a starting point—Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas—and I’m determined. I’m on a quest to find these gems, to find an answer.
p.s-- I only posted images of Zane books because her shit is everywhere, not because I have anything against her.