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How do we think about African-American literature?

African-American literature is a body of literature made in the U.S. by Americans of African descent. Because of how African-Americans were integrated into the founding of the U.S., African-American writing is often concerned with racism, oppression, and struggles for freedom. At the same time, should such literature always be concerned with political advocacy, or should Black writers and artists focus on art for art’s sake? From early U.S. history (Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar), to the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen), to the Civil Rights Movement era (James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks), to now (Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Natasha Trethewey, Jamaica Kinkaid, Nikki Giovanni), how do writers and readers think about African-American literature?

African-American literature should always be political

Since the founding years of the U.S. as a nation, Black lives, culture, and literature were deemed inferior or invalid. African-American writing cannot escape this reality, so their literature should illuminate racial injustices and promote political equality.

"All Art is propaganda"

Art is political in nature because art can change viewers’ minds and bring viewers’ to empathize with something new. African-American literature should advocate for political equality in today's unequal society.

African-American literature should pursue art for art's sake

African-American literature should not be confined to topics of politics, racism, or liberation. Black writers have the freedom to create art for art's sake, to create art with attention to aesthetics, form, and beauty.

Literature should not be tied to racial identity

There shouldn't be such a thing as "African-American literature" because such literature should speak for all Americans.

African-American literature should be by, and for, the Black community

African-American literature should be about the free expression and individuality of Black lives—without patronizing to White readership who decides what is "good" and "bad."

African-American literature should be about free expression

African-American literature may only gain fame when approved by popular (that is, White) readership. But Black artists should create art drawn from their unique, true experiences.

This page was last edited on Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020 at 15:15 UTC


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