Black Literature

Black literature is a large and often distinct literature that black American writers have produced over the past generation. Black literature did not start at all of a poet and novelist Paul Lawrence Dunbar and the novelist Charles Waddell Chestnut at the turn of the century.

These two figures were followed by many Negro critics and scholars as well as minor poet; but it was only from 1920s to the 1930s that the ground for current black literature was created with Harlem Renaissance. Now suddenly immense number of gifted black writers appeared who brought FORCE along with them an American literary scene, and there was also a sudden new Negro consciousness among the Blacks.

LANGSTON HUGHES     He is an important figure for being one of the leaders of Harlem Renaissance. He was successful in making large impression on the general literary scene. His earlier works does not directly attack white society, his protest are made soft like sad wishes. But in the 50s, his poetry began to express more anger.

RICHARD WRIGHT     Wright came up with Native Son, which was a turning point as it brought forth the bleeding hearts of the Blacks. Native Son is an account of violent criminality with which Negro defends against social oppression. Richard’s story Uncle Tom’s Children brought a complete new image of Black people. Before (Uncle Tom’s Children) it was believed that Black People were like machines – void of any emotions and made merely to work hard; but with Uncle Tom’s Children , it was believed that Black people were hard men . Richard Wright in his novels, used alienation profoundly, but it was not just the isolated image he was concerned with. Through this image he dealt with the mainstream American society. For Wright alienation is not the tool used to escape, but to enter the society and build up a space, and these expose the corruption and brutality lying beneath the so called civilized society. Thus, Wright was concerned with two main purposes on the one hand, he shows resistance, violence and on the other hand, he calls for justice. For this reason, most of his works tend to be ambiguous. However his major works are Native Son and The Outsider in novels and Black Boy in autobiography.These works help in raising the anger in the heart of the American Negroes who have had to endure such cruel disadvantages as the penalties of color. With such story and powerful works, Richard Wright not only became popular at that time but he was equally influenced. Many Black writers followed his technique by using powerful realism and naturalism.

RALPH ELLISON     Ralph Ellison in his protest novel Invisible Man not only focused on Black people who are invisible in American white society, but he also satirizes such corrupt society where human are so different to each other especially, to the Black .Through this novel, Ellison skillfully conveys the Black experience. Appreciating the richness of this novel, Alfred Kazin has also remarked that Invisible man is about the art of survival. The novel Invisible Man is packed full of serious observation of the manners, idioms and human style that continue the ethos of Black life in America. In his Invisible Man, the hero is a nameless black individual who also lives underground in a hole in New York City. He is invisible because the people around him see only his surrounding or their imagination. According to Ellison, the problem is that whites can not see black as individual people. White does only see their own stupid idea of what a black is.The hero of the story had been a good boy in the South. He spoke well and could say just the right thing to black college presidents and white businessmen. But by being so good he is really a “nothing man”. He is still the black victim of white society. Invisible Man describes American social injustice. The character in Invisible Man is presented as a very good man because he follows norms and values of society but in his society he is not man by being man. Through the eyes of Invisible man writer shows the absurdity of America. Invisible Man is unnamed black boy, he is not known as an individual so his quest is visibility and identity. Though is very good man he could not get his individuality. According to Ellison the problem is that white people cannot see blacks as an individual people. Whites only see their own stupid idea of what a black is. He shows that the American society ignores blacks.His protagonist is a young black man (unnamed) who is good Negro for his white master. He did the work which was not acceptable for the white folks, so he was put out from his college as a punishment. He than moves on to New York, there he tries to accommodate him but executive powers order that being black he shall be invisible. He gets a job in a long Island point factory but suffers from labors violence. So on afterwards he is taken up by the Brotherhood that is communist party. He has tried to find room for himself in American industry to become a good cog in the technological machine. He has attempted to attach himself to leftist politics he tried all those things by means of which it would seem that a Negro might achieve visibility in America life. Alfred Kazin says Invisible Man is about the art of survival and as such it is in its brilliant mingling of comic tragic modalities, something close to a masterpiece.

JAMES BALDWIN     In the 1950, Baldwin appeared in American Black writing scenario as a protest writer. He added something an Ellision’s contribution what he had lacked. His famous book Go Tell It on the Mountain concerns the formation of boy’s character, a sensitive Negro boy who has to find his way toward some liberating sense of his own human possibilities in the repressive atmosphere of primitive religion fervently celebrated in Harlem. Baldwin attacks the white hegemony very severely. He talks about the condition in which Black were forced to live. As he says there were no any chances to make their career. Although state law had confirmed equality between white and black people, blacks were pushed again and again to cruel harassment and black students were dominated by white. Similarly Negro drivers were treated differently on their slavery. Black people prohibited to go in good restaurant. Thus in Baldwin’s writing we find increasingly aggressive mode. Beside his Go Tell It on the Mountain there are many famous literary works found in American black literature. Among them the most famous are Givann’s Room. It is about a young American black in Paris. He must choose between love for a man and love for a woman. Both of these novels deal more with psychological problems than with the race problem.

In 1963, Baldwin came up with The Fire Next Time which represents his finest work, where he deals with the aggression of blacks that can erupt like a volcano at any time. Baldwin’s major purpose is not merely to represent the grief and sorrow, he also sarcastically focuses on old American belief that all Americans are freedom loving heroes born in the greatest country the world has ever seen that American have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Baldwin having a very revolutionary nature asserts that there can be no love between the black and the whites, the blacks can never forgive the white after going through three hundred years of cruelty.

HARLEM RENAISSANCE     Harlem Renaissance is a cultural moment of Afro- American people during 1920s. It was concentrated on New York City’s Harlem so it is called Harlem. It is also called as New Negro Renaissance, New Negro movement. It affected different fields like art, literature, politics etc. When the southerners, found northern part more prosperous, liberal and industrialized they assumed it as dreamland. So in a large number great migration started to Northern part especially in Harlem they thought Harlem a kind of Mecca. Although there is no any fixed date of the emergence of Harlem Renaissance , Normally it is believed that after the First World War around 1915- 1918 it emerged and at 1920s it reaches in its peak, then at 1930s it ended. Harlem Renaissance is a term that refers to a period of remarkable creativity in literature, music, dance, painting and sculpture by African- Americans. The distinguished writers who were part of their movement were Langston Hughes, Countee Culler, Steling Brown, Jean Toomer, Claude Mckay, Jessie Fauset etc. However, the Great Depression of 1929 and the early 1930s brought the period of Harlem Culture effectively to an end.

Characteristics of Harlem Renaissance in Literature

Among Black writers there is no a common literary style or political ideology. They practiced with different styles and made experiment. However they were similar in terms of the expression of oppression and suffering. Black writers common themes were alienation and marginality, and a strong sense of racial pride and desire for social and political equality. Yet the most interesting characteristics aspect of Harlem Renaissance is diversity of its expression.

THE BLACK ART MOVEMENT     This is a new movement which came to be institutionalized in the sixties and seventies. It was a radical separatist ethnicism proposing to disengage itself not only from the larger world of American literature but also from the western (white) tradition. The program was gradually worked out by the help of magazines like Freedom Ways, Negro Digest (later Black world), The Black Scholars and conference held in campuses and in community centers all over the North. Those who emerged as the chief strategies of this insurgency were the poets and playwrights Amiri Baraka, the novelist John Oliver, poet Larry Neal and Don Lee and others. What they worked out for is now generally called as the Black Arts Movement. As such, Black Arts Movement envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task the Black Art Movement proposed a separate symbolism, mythology, critique and iconology for the reordering.


ALEX HALEY     Haley’s the most famous book Roots published in 1976. In this book Haley remembers his past. While writing he goes to the root. He is high’s realist and presents the scenes of pain and suffering. Haley’s Roots became so popular that it reserved its seat among the readers. Everywhere in the press and in the daily conversation of all classes of people Roots was being talked about, it also appeared in T.V serial. Roots got a great popularity in America by overnight; hundreds of thousands of copies were in the hands of vast numbers of people.Haley’s Roots designates the ancestral memories. It is about the exploitation of lineage. In this novel the protagonist visualizes the picture of ancestors. At first protagonist became aware of the social discrimination and secondly he starts the journey for his identity and at the end he gets his destination, that is achieved by the help of supernatural power and by the myth and religion.

AMIRI BARAKA     1960 s American poetic scenario especially in Black Art Movement some poetry were written about the anger. Among such poets, Amiri Baraka stands most prominently. In his poetry we can find the most powerful, bold fearless expression of social right. He believes that poetry ought to be loud gravely and racy. Black Art poetry is especially about the life of urban that records the hopes, joys and tribulation of black experiences in the jungle of American metropolitans. In Black Art poetry the hopes and optimism ultimately ended the life by disillusionment of city. Their optimism turns out to be pessimism. So they started criminal things. They spoilt their life by being pessimistic.The poetry written in 60 s and 70 s were the result of black optimism and the terrible stress felt in the ghettoes. To express their dreams and expectations they used irregular rhymes and rhythms emerged spontaneously that they derived from black music or Black speech. Their rhythm used to either colloquial or jazz.

STERLING BROWN     Sterling Brown was deeply influenced by the poetry of Langston Hughes. He became the leading poets of Negro literature yet he has produced only one poetry. He produced poetry about the southern peasantry.Sterling Brown published only one volume of poetry in 1932 called Southern Road. However he also held an influential position amongst younger was the deep persuasion of the dignity of folk tradition and folk experience. The folk realities addressed by Brown were those of the southern peasant.

BLACK DRAMA     After the end of Second World War the Negro writer did not paid so much attention to fiction as much they motivated to poetry and Drama. Drama became the easiest form to reflect the pain and suffering. Black drama of 40s and 50s were mostly concentrated on Harlem, it was the center of drama during these days they were presented either in Harlem or in downtown theaters “Off Broadway”.
After 1945, much of the genuine dramas written by Negroes were brought about by organizations like Harlem’s American Negro Theatre, The Harlem Writers Club, The Council of the Harlem Theater and The Henry Street settlement.

LOUIS PETERSON     The first large success of the period was Take a Giant Step (1953), the work of a young black dramatist, Louis Peterson. This play was a sensitive exploration of the difficulties experience by a Negro youngster. In 1954, the Greenwich Mews Theater presented William Branch’s In Splendid Error; the highly successful play. Other plays were Alice Children’s, Trouble in Mind (1955) and Loften Mitchell’s A Land beyond the River (1957) both were the productions of the Greenwich Mews.

LORRAINE HANSBERY     Lorraine Hansbery wrote A Raising in the Sun that captivated the public imagination. This play was also the great hit of the season.

CONCLUSION     From the works of Langston Hughes to the works of Alex Halley, they have dealt with Black experience through which they have attempted to touch the whole national unity. Though their explicit focus may be an Black experience, Black separatism, Black pride and Black solidarity, their motive is not just to deal with black ghetto; rather through the Black ghetto they touch the whole national community. They show the world where the white Americans and Black Americans have separated, and so with this separatism, they also show how their identities are interconnected.