African American literature is the body of literature produced in the United States by writers of African descent. The genre traces its origins to the works of such late 18th century writers as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, reaching early high points with slave narratives and the Harlem Renaissance, and continuing today with authors such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Walter Mosley. Among the themes and issues explored in African American literature are the role of African Americans within the larger American society, African-American culture, racism, slavery, and equality. African American writing has also tended to incorporate oral forms such as spirituals, sermons, gospel music, blues and rap.
As African Americans' place in American society has changed over the centuries, so, too, have the foci of African American literature. Before the American Civil War, African American literature primarily focused on the issue of slavery, as indicated by the subgenre of slave narratives. At the turn of the twentieth century, books by authors such as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington debated whether to confront or appease racist attitudes in the United States. During the American Civil Rights movement, authors such as Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about issues of racial segregation and black nationalism. Today, African American literature has become accepted as an integral part of American literature, with books such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Beloved by Toni Morrison achieving both best-selling and award-winning status.
The success of America ultimately depends on the ability to integrate all races, but the legacy of slavery makes the African American issue a particularly difficult and painful one, as African Americans have struggled for not only equal treatment, but full acceptance in American society. America serves as a model for the ultimately harmony between all cultures.
- ↑ "To Shatter Innocence: Teaching African American Poetry" by Jerry W. Ward, Jr, from Teaching African American Literature by M. Graham, Routledge, 1998, page 146.