Léopold Sedar Senghor, circa 1970.

15- Bibliography, Authors, works

Towards a Black Consciousness

This is a tentative list of Black writers which represent the core of Black culture and Pan-Africanism. Some are Americans (North, the Caribbean, South), some Africans, selected by Patricio Pouchulu and Vanessa Oliveira between 1985 and 2018. In chronological order. You can read our Bibliography Recommendation, here.

W.E.B. Du Bois (Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 1868-1963)

Du Bois was an activist, Pan-Africanist, historian, sociologist and educator. Pioneer of the African American movements, he grew up in Massachusetts in a good social position. At Fisk University he noticed the stressed situation black students were exposed to, and started his Afro-activism. There he wrote his thesis, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 still a reference in the subject. Du Bois was co-founder of NAACP and the first editor of its paper, the Crisis. He wrote several books, becoming a national respected figure that inspired generations.

Zora Neale Hurston (Fort Pierce, Florida, 1901-1960)

Zora Neale Hurston moved to New York City in 1925 and had an intense social life. Soon she was known as a Black female writer. She published more than 52 novels, stories, essays, and in 1937 her masterpiece: Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston focused on the culture and traditions of African Americans through the poetry of their speech, rather than by contrast with the white society. She did not manage to keep her success, vanishing from public life. Decades later, Alice Walker wrote "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" and called the attention of new generations.

Langston Hughes (Joplin, Missouri, 1902-67)

Influenced by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes was one of the axis of the Harlem Renaissance, incorporating Jazz rhythms and becoming an early pioneer of the literary art form jazz poetry. He described and exposed people using a more empirical language of tangible black culture elelemtns. Carl Van Vechten, critic and photographer, helped him with his first Black poetry collection in 1926, including The Weary Blues. With his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, he won the Harmon gold medal for literature. His career spaned four decades, several books, short stories and poetry, and he was adored both by public and artists.

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001)

Senghor was a Senegalese poet, politician, and intellectual educator who became the first president of Senegal, and for twenty years, from 1960 to 1980. One of the founders of the Négritude movement, he also established the Senegalese Democratic Bloc party, moderate Socialist organization. He was the first African elected as a member of the Académie française, and still today one of the most important references of Pan-Africanism and Négritude.

His main works are: Prière aux masques (1935, published in collected works during the 1940s); Chants d'ombre (1945); Hosties noires (1948); Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache (1948); Éthiopiques (1956); Nocturnes (1961); Nation et voie africaine du socialisme (1961); Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine (1962); Poèmes (1964); Lettres de d'hivernage (1973); Élégies majeures (1979) ; Ce que je crois (1988). His poems regularly appeard in newspapers from Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Kwame Nkrumah (Nkroful, Gold Coast, 1909-1972)

Kwame Nkrumah was a Ghanaian politician, revolutionary and political writer. He spent twelve years studying abroad, including the University College London. He returned to Gold Coast to start his political career, establishing the Convention People's Party. He became prime minister and in 1960, after Ghana got independence, he was elected president. He promoted large energy projects, a strong education system and Pan-Africanism. Because of Nkrumah, Ghana was the core of the decolonization period, mostly done in peace. He was deposed in 1966 and lived the the rest of his life in Guinea. 

His most important books are: Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (1957); Africa Must Unite (1963). African Personality (1963); Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965); Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah (1967); African Socialism Revisited (1967); Voice From Conakry (1967); Dark Days in Ghana (1968); Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare (1968); Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonisation (1970).

Ralph Ellison (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1914-94)

Born Ralph Waldo Ellison after the famous journalist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ellison was known for his universal spirit looking for truths. Ellison taught at several colleges and went on a two years trip overseas as a Fellow of the American Academy. Ellison rejected the notion that one should choose a particular ideology, somehow rejecting both Black and white stereotypes. This can be seen in his essays titled Shadow and Act. He became known after his first novel written in 1952, Invisible Man:

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me..."

Alex Haley (Ithaca, Nueva York, 1921-92)

Alex Haley was a key writer who popularized US nationwide interest in Black culture after The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and particularly after his novel Roots was transformed into a TV miniseries: millions of Americans started to pay attention to Genealogy and Black History in the mid seventies.

As a young freelance writer, he interviewd Miles Davis for Playboy magazine. It was such a success that he was hired to do "The Playboy Interviews", with prominent African Americans, including Malcolm X, Haley met him and started to write his biography. Then, focused on tracing his ancestors from Africa, he wrote the epic novel Roots. The Saga of an American Family was published in 1976. The book was promoted through media and won the Pulitzer Prize.

James Baldwin (Harlem, 1924-1976)

James Baldwin is the quintessential American writer. He spent most of his life living abroad -he couldn't stand the racial prejudice in the US. His essays and poetry show a critic who felt the struggle of beign Black in his country. He is also known for his descriptions as a gay Black man in a white counrty.

At the age of 24 he went to Paris. Go Tell it on the Mountain was published in 1953, a novel absolutely revolutionary and refreshing, becoming an American classic. During the Civil Rights Movement, he published his most important collections of essays, "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), "Nobody Knows My Name" (1961) and "The Fire Next Time" (1963). James Baldwin was and still is an inspiration for all of us.

Maya Angelou (St. Louis, Missouri, 1928-)

Maya Angelou had a curious career: by her early twenties, she had been a Creole cook, a waitress, a streetcar conductor, a cocktail, and a dancer. She emerged as a successful singer, actress, playwright, editor for a magazine in Egypt, lecturer and civil rights activist, and as a popular author of five collections of poetry and five autobiographies. Angelou gave a moving reading of her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993, which gave her recognition. She began producing books after her friend James Baldwin, knew her childhood stories in rural, segretated environments. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a chronicle of her life up to age sixteen, published in 1970 with great success. Maya Angelou's writting is like a platform on where our reaffirmation of culture differences, beauties and peculiarities stand on.

Toni Morrison (1931-)

Nobel Prize in 1993, Toni Morrison became the voice of African American women. According to her memories, she was not totally aware of racial divisions until her teenage years: she grew up in an integrated neighborhood. Dedicated to her studies, she got her master's degree and then went to Howard University to teach. While working as editor at Random House she began to write. The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), and particularly The Song of Solomon became a success; Beloved (1987) is considered to be her masterpiece (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). She is known worlwide.

Amiri Baraka (Newark, Everett LeRoi Jones, 1934 –2014), previously known as LeRoi Jones, was an African-American writer of poetry, drama, fiction and essays. He taught at several universities, including the State University of New York (Buffalo) and the State University of New York (Stony Brook). An extremely critical, cinical and lucid writer who embraced Islam and at at certain point fed the of reveange in the younger Black American community. We selected one crucial book, which till certain extent synthesises the spirit of Black Americans in the crossroads of frustration, hate and desperation, produced after decades of dramatic social and political fights. it also described certain unlucky aspects of US culture, related with consumism and banality.

Raise Race Rays Raze, Amiri Baraka, essays since 1965, 1971. Edited by.

Read more about Baraka at the Poetry Foundation, here.

Octavia Butler (California, 1947-2006)

Octavia Butler was a master in a genre known for being normally white and male: science fiction. An African American woman involved in extreme fiction might sound strange, but she was an passionate reader despite having dyslexia: she was a storyteller by 4, and start writing at 10. She was attracted by science fiction because of its limitless possibilities for creating athmospheres. Her novels are evocative and surround race, sex, complex relations. Kindred (1979) tells the story of a Black woman who goes back in time to save her own life by saving a white, who actually was a slaveholding ancestor. She inspired future generations of female writers, like Nnedi Okorafor. Visit her website here.

Read the next chapter, Resources, here.

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