African American authors comprise a large number of most of the popular authors today. Their genre began in the 8th century and it continues until today, covering a wide array of subjects which were sometimes affected by the purpose as well as the prevailing social conditions that were present at the time when they were written. Thus, you can see authors who have written about slavery, emancipation, the role of women, and many other subjects that were contemporaneous with the role that African Americans in the past. Here are some of the more popular authors which greatly influenced literature as we know it.
One of the earliest African American authors is Phillis Wheatley who first published her work in 1773, right before the declaration of American Independence. Her book was titled, “Poems on Various Subjects” and it is considered to be the first major work of an African American author. This book provoked great controversy given the status that colored people had during that period. To prove that her color should not be considered as a mark of her incapacity to produce great literary works, she went to court and provided a good defense.
Video of Phillis Wheatley:
Next, you have Frederick Douglass who wrote more on the subject of slavery during the 19th century. Being born by slaves himself, Douglass wrote what is now known as a slave narrative where he detailed his experiences being one. Some of his more popular works are Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and Freedom, and an American Slave. Douglass wrote more in the abolitionist’s spirit and became one of the most popular writers during that time. Aside from his narratives, he also wrote political essays and articles.
Video of Frederick Douglass:
Another great African American writer is Booker T. Washington. He was also born as a slave but was able to obtain an education and establish a school himself. His works usually reflect his struggles on his way to success and they include Up From Slavery, My Larger Education, and The Future of the American Negro. Washington believed that in order for blacks to obtain an equal status with whites, they had to learn how to improve themselves through education.
Video of Booker T. Washington:
Lastly, you have W.E.B. Du Bois who earned as the distinction of being the first African-American to obtain a Doctorate Degree from Harvard University. He was one of the founders of the NAACP and was one of its brightest members at that time. He actively pushed for the representation of blacks in civil matters and he published a series of articles which greatly influenced other writers.
Podcast video of W.E.B Du Bois:
Today, you can still see a lot of African American writers who have had great success in their works. Some of them include Maya Angelou, Samuel Delany, Gayl Jones, and Ishmael Reed. They have also written on a wider range of genre such as fiction and crime novels which did not used to be included as a particular specialty of these writers. This definitely is a reflection of how much their works have been accepted by the American Society in the more recent past.
Click this page to learn about popular African American Poets