African American Classics
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I've already read a few from the 19th Century: Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and The Life of Fredrick Douglass. The ones I plan to read this year will be from the 20th Century.
To read this year:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Native Son by Richard Wright
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Roots by Alex Haley
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Song of Solomon and Beloved by Toni Morrison
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Any comments/suggestions for alternate books would be welcome.
Though I love both, I personally prefer Passing overall while finding Quicksand's ending more powerful.
ETA: Don't forget that Richard Wright wrote more than just Native Son. In particular, check out his short-story collection Uncle Tom's Children and also his early-written but posthumously-published Lawd Today!, which is woefully underrated (and very different from his later, naturalistic works).
what a great list! half of those books reside in my top books of all time! or at least books i really really love. toni morrisson is amazing but know beforehand that with most of her books (the two you chose in particular, i think) she makes you work. beloved is tricky, at least at the beginning. when i read it years ago, i read to about the halfway point and then started over. lots of things that confused me on the first pass made complete sense with more context, and i was glad i did it that way. i was young and not so attentive, though, so maybe all you need to be is not a college kid with other things on her mind.
i feel like you could add anything else at all by her but another of hers that i particularly love is the bluest eye.
and by baldwin, giovanni's room is freaking amazing. his another country is not the easiest or most pleasant read but it changed my life when i read it when i was just out of college. didn't have the same power (how could it have?) when i reread it a year or so ago, but it still ranks for me.
you're sticking to the more major authors/books?
Yeah, I'm just reading 12 of the more famous works. I'm a slow reader, and some of the classics are not quick reads, anyway. But I will have a bit more free time this year (teaching fewer classes) so I can maybe squeeze in a few more books/authors.
I, personally, would skip Roots. While very influential, it's also very controversial.
I'm about half-way through I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It's a great story, but I have to keep reminding myself it's not a novel-- it's not fiction. This is Angelou's autobiography-- what actually happened to her. I guess it's just so different from my experience growing up. Another world. Anyways, poor kid! Abandoned by her parents, and raped by her mother's boyfriend when she was just eight!
Next up: Their Eyes Were Watching God
That said, even if it is not 100% truth with these exact people from history, those general events and situations did take place, and it's wonderfully written and moving, and most certainly still worth the read.
The college "Jeopardy" show this week represents how little interest most of the world makes of african american culture. The category of "African American History" (because of this month's annual celebration) was avoided until it was the only one remaining on the board; and even then, most of the category's (although questioning the most basic and fundamental information) were unanswered by the contestants. I am so pleased you (all of you) have made a commitment to expand your world to include more than the immediately familiar reading material.
I post this to encourage you to not limit yourself to the 'classics' as defined by the publishing community of fifty years ago. There is a current set of published authors who will further expand your reading experience. Their writing will not reflect past social mores, and will include more current pressures and circumstances that you may identify. I used anthologies of short stories to introduce myself to new authors, including african and african american writers worldwide. I encourage you to continue to include different cultures in your reading experience. You will grow in ways that will surprise you.
i do the same with short story collections; it's such a great way to get a taste of many writers/voices. of course the rub is finding so many it's impossible to read them all. and that short story writers don't always transition well into full-length fiction and vice versa.
The scene beneath the pear tree is the best allegory of adolescent desire I've ever read. Classic.
Zora Neale Hurston took a lot of heat from other Harlem Renaissance writers for her insistence on using the vernacular and local dialects in her work. They thought it "dumbed down" black culture at a time when they were trying to help it to rise. Hurston was more interested in preserving the diversity of African American culture and voice she found.
I am currently reading The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat. She's probably too contemporary to be considered a writer of classics but she's one of my favorites. I also liked The Farming of Bones, set in Haiti around the time of the Parsley Massacre.
I think I'd like to read Roots next.
Baldwin was a remarkable, remarkable man. His interview with Studs Terkel on the Voices of America radio program is one of my favorite things ever.
Next up: Native Son