This second edition, Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors, focuses on writers and works published since 1950. Like the previous volumes, the majority of the authors surveyed are African American, but representative African and Caribbean authors are also included. Given the proliferation of literature published by African Americans especially since the 1960s, and the even more vast volume of criticism it has generated, this compilation is necessarily selective. Writers whose works have found their way into the dynamic and evolving canon of African American literature and have been subjected to extensive critiques that did not appear in the previous series have been selected for inclusion. So have writers whose works have been published in major anthologies and encyclopedias of African American literature. In affording easy access to criticism of these writers' works, Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors provides students, teachers, writers and other readers of the literature with resources for making their own critical assessments of the writers and their work. Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors also provides its users with access to the at times heated discourses around the nature and character of African American literature; what distinguishes it aesthetically, intellectually and politically from other literatures; and what has been its relationship to and impact on American literature.
Prior to the 1960s, most mainstream American literary organizations and literary magazines did not admit African American writers, critique their works or publish African American writers or critics. African American newspapers and magazines dating back to the 19th century often featured reviews and critiques of African American literature. During the 1920s, Crisis and Opportunity, the official magazines of the NAACP and the National Urban League, provided national forums for African American Literary criticism as did on occasion the Journal of Negro History and the Journal of Negro Education.
Denied full access to the Modern Language Association and other professional American literary organizations until the 1970s, African American writers and critics formed the College Language Association (CLA) in 1939. The CLA at its annual conference provided a forum where specialists in African American literature could present their assessments of African American writers and their works as well as overall evaluations of the evolving field of African American literature. The CLA Journal became a principal forum for publishing this work. It was joined by Johnson Publication's Negro Digest (and its successor Black World) in 1941. Negro Digest/Black World catered to a more general audience and played a major role in reporting African American literary developments and publishing African American literature and criticism. By the 1960s Negro Digest/Black World were joined by the Black Literature Forum, the Journal of Black Poetry, Callaloo, The Black Theater Review and a host of other African American Literary publications that focused on African American literature, literary history and criticism.
During the 1940s and 1950s a few African American writers—notably novelists Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, Pulitzer prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and Tony Award-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry—came to the critical attention of the American literary establishment. Not until the emergence of African American studies programs and departments on American college and university campuses during the late 1960s and 1970s, however, did African American writers and their works as well as African American literature as a field enter the mainstream academy and literary profession. Previously published out of print works by African American writers were reprinted and distributed by publishing houses interested in cashing in on the Black Studies bonanza. Writers whose works had been turned down again and again by mainstream publishers suddenly found themselves courted by them. New black publishing houses such as Broadside, Third World Press, and Amistad Press published the works of writers from the black arts movement. And mainstream publishers, realizing that blacks do read and buy books, started new black imprints to publish black works.
Beginning in the 1970s, the pages of mainstream literary publications began to open to black writers and black critics. The MLA and other previously all-white literary organizations both opened membership to blacks and included panels on black literature in their annual programs. Black writers and critics even became officers in these organizations, including president. During the 1970s, black writers and their works began to find a place in college, university and grade school classrooms, in black bookstores and with mainstream booksellers. Gradually, African American literary critics—black, white and otherwise—found their reviews and critiques in print—in great abundance.
This abundant and diverse body of criticism of the works of African American, Caribbean and African writers has been scattered in the thousands of publishing outlets used by critics in this expansive period of literary production. Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors brings together a selection of this work and makes it available in an easily accessible format.
Information about authors and their works is presented through eight key access points:
September 13, 2010