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: The Encyclopedia of the...
This little-known classic of the Harlem Renaissance by the mysterious, Utah-born bisexual Wallace Thurman, who died inobscurity in 1934, is both timeless and timely. It centerson the larger-than-life denizens of a Harlem mansion called "Niggeratti Manor": Stephen Jorgensen, the recently arrivedCanadian; Paul, the ambivalent, uptown social critic;Pelham, the struggling poet; Eustace Savoy, an entertainerdisdainful of his Afro-American musical heritage. In this volatile gumbo of complex characters--which also pokes funat a few famous writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, AlainLocke, and Langston Hughes--Thurman weaves a hilarious storythat critiques the paternalistic Negro author/white patronrelationship, uncovers the social-class antagonisms in theAfro-American community, and foreshadows the sexual andsocial themes of James Baldwin and E. Lynn Harris. Thurman'selegant and elastic prose adds more illumination to this bright period in African American literature.
"The Crisis Reader" edited by Sondra Kathryn Wilson
When the towering African American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, he also launched a magazine as a literary extension of the organization. The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races was first published in 1910, articulating the social, political, and economic concerns of blacks on a national and international scale--and showcasing many Afro-American writers, playwrights, andintellectuals who later became household names. This collection--drawn mostly from material published in the 1920's--contains the race-examining fiction of Charles Chestnutt and Jessie Fauset; an early personal essay on racial relations from sociologist E. Franklin Frazier; Du Bois and philosopher Alain Locke's critique, "The Younger Negro Movement"; and "The Work of a Mob," by activist WalterWhite, whose ability to pass for "white" enabled him to deliver chilling eyewitness accounts of lynching. As its editor, Sondra Kathryn Wilson, writes, "This rich collection ... written during some of the most egregiously racist times in American history, will be an affirmationthat black American literature has long been the most sophisticated in the world."
"Walking on Water" by Randall Kenan
This delicious and diverse sampler of African American lifeculled from over 200 interviews by author Randall Kenanshows that the American idea of "blackness" is as vast asthe United States itself and cannot be pinned down tosimplistic sociological cliches. "More than a book ofanalysis," Kenan writes, "this is my book of soul searching.I am asking who we are." Crisscrossing North America, he visits some familiar settings--Oakland, New Orleans, and NewYork--and some unusual places (including Bangor, Maine, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to discover how everyday black folks deal with issues of race, identity, and nationality. From a black minister in Mormon Utah to a female judge in skinhead country to the state of blacks in the would-be-utopia of Seattle, Kenan paints a revealing portrait of a people whose presence and perseverance may forge a better America in the 21st century.
"The Color of Our Future" by Farai Chideya
In her penetrating crosscountry tour of the United States, gifted media star-on-the-rise and cultural critic Farai Chideya reveals how America's young people aredeconstructing the white/black definition of race and constructing a new pluralistic paradigm that encompasses thecountry's white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and native peoples.Chideya shows us the trials and triumphs of several young adults who dare to brave the new multicultural world, including Earl, a New York City-born, Spanish-speaking, Chinese/Panamanian/African American college sophomore; Nicole, a biracial 15-year-old Californian; Jaime and Bubba,a persecuted interracial couple in the Deep South whose deaddaughter was disinterred from an all-white cemetery because of her bloodlines; Beth, a Washington State blueblood and member of a skinhead organization; and B.J., a high school "wigger"--a white person who adopts black hip-hop culture (hence the derivation from the hated "n" word). Chideya also scrutinizes affirmative action, mixed-race censuscategories, and bilingual education with wisdom and accuracybeyond her years. "We do not obey the laws of race. We makethem," she writes. "Now is the time for us to chose wiselywhat we will preserve about our racial and cultural history,and what destructive divisions we need to leave behind.""Black Genius" edited by
Walter Mosley, Manthia Diawara, and Clyde Davis
These essays are taken from a symposium held in New YorkUniversity's Africana Studies Program, whose participantsincluded gifted writers and thinkers from the upper echelonof Afro-American achievement. The organizer, novelist WalterMosley, writes, "The intent of Black Genius was to assemblea group of black intellectuals, artists, politicalactivists, economists who have broken the visor and seenbeyond the fallacies of race.... We wanted to present thestories of women and men who had made it in spite of thesystem." Farai Chideya delivers an on-point analysis of themedia's misrepresentation of blacks and offers a blueprintfor more upfront and behind-the-scenes representation in the newsroom. Critic Stanley Crouch body-slams the negroidalnihilism and black "gansta" mentality in rap music, whileAngela Davis delivers a nightmarish assessment of thegrowing African American prison population. Others--including Julianne Malveaux, Randall Robinson, Spike Lee, and Anna Deavere Smith--take aim at health, the film industry, Wall Street, and the state of African-descendant people around the world.--Eugene Holley Jr. reviews books on black studies forAmazon.com. His work has also appeared in several magazines, including Downbeat and Hispanic.
"The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon (1925-61) was a Martinique-born black psychiatrist and anticolonialist intellectual; "The Wretched of the Earth" is considered by many to be one of the canonical books on the worldwide black liberation struggles of the 1960s. Within a Marxist framework, using a cutting and nonsentimental writing style, Fanon draws upon his horrific experiences working in Algeria during its war of independence against France. He addresses the role of violence in decolonization and the challenges of political organization and the class collisions and questions of cultural hegemony in the creation and maintenance of a new country's national consciousness. As Fanon eloquently writes, "[T]he unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps." Although socialism has seemingly collapsed in the years since Fanon's work was first published, there is much in his look into the political, racial, and social psyche of the ever-emerging Third World that still rings true at the cusp of a new century. "Negro: An Anthology" by Nancy Cunard
The story behind "Negro: An Anthology" is as legendary as its contents. In the late 1920s, Nancy Cunard, socially conscious, British, white, upper-class nonconformist and heir to the famed Cunard Shipping Line, married a black man and single-handedly put out 100 copies of a groundbreaking anthology. The work contained essays, poetry, short stories, and political propaganda from the era's finest Afro-American writers, along with valuable contributions by several white writers, including William Carlos Williams, Samuel Beckett, and Theodore Dreiser. In this invaluable reprint, we can see how broadly Cunard's interest in the "Negro question" ran. In chapters dealing with slavery, history, education, and the arts--as well as Latin America, Europe, and Africa-- Cunard includes the poetry of Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown; Zora Neale Hurston's anthropological study of the "Characteristics of Negro Expressions"; James Ford's legendary "Communism and the Negro"; and glimpses into the conditions and folk customs of blacks in Trinidad, Barbados, Cuba, Brazil, Uruguay, Paris, and West Africa. The most poignant writing, however, is her own account of the infamous case of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of innocent blacks falsely accused of raping two white women, which resulted in their near-execution. Although much of the communist-friendly content of "Negro" may seem naive by today's standards, the collection still stands as one of the most unique and esoteric compendiums of 20th-century Afro- American literature. "They Came Before Columbus" by Ivan Van Sertima
This controversial book by Ivan Van Sertima, the Guyanese historian, linguist, and anthropologist, claims that Africans had been to the New World centuries before Columbus arrived there in 1492. Citing--among other things--the huge Negroid-looking Olmec heads of Central Mexico and the similarities between the Aztec and Egyptian calendars and pyramid structures, Van Sertima pieces together a hidden history of pre-Columbian contact between Africans and Native Americans. He also puts forth the possibility that Columbus may have already known about a route to the Americas from his years in Africa as a trader in Guinea. The ideas in this book have been debated and discussed since its first publication in 1976; even those who choose not to believe Van Sertima's theories should take his argument seriously. "My Mind Set on Freedom" by John A. Salmond
Trying to tell a richly detailed version of the turbulent and triumphant history of the civil rights movement in under 200 pages is a risky thing, but John A. Salmond, a professor of American history at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, has produced a text that speaks equally to the college student and educator. Citing the origins of the civil rights movement in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies of the 1930s, Salmond highlights the sit- ins, political organizations, riots, and the often brutal response of the United States government. He chronicles both the well-known and anonymous players on the stage of Afro- American liberation, from the role of civil rights lawyers Charles H. Houston and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the historic Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, that ended official segregation in America, to the act of defiance by Rosa Parks that led to the Montgomery bus boycott and brought Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence, as well as the assassinations of King and black nationalist leader Malcolm X. With clear prose refreshingly free of racial and social cliches, Salmond correctly states that, contrary to those who saw the civil rights movement as an agitation spurred on by outside forces, "the civil rights revolution had its roots deep in the American experience, in the egalitarian notions of Thomas Jefferson [and] the Emancipation Proclamation.... It is a mistake to think that Southern blacks meekly accepted the imposition of a caste system. They fought against it from the beginning." "The House That Race Built" edited by Wahneema Lubiano
This wide-ranging collection of essays by 15 scholars illustrates that
there are many African American readings and responses to race. In "Home,"
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison muses on her uses of African American speech
and the question of "how to be free and situated; how to convert
a racist house into a race specific yet nonracist house." Harvard
professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's "Rethinking Vernacular Culture"
details the affirmative role of Afro- American religion and blues-oriented
race records of the 1920s and 1930s. Williams College's David Lionel
Smith, in "What Is Black Culture?", gives a well-nuanced critique
of the contradictory and limiting definitions of "blackness,"
while activist-educator Angela Y. Davis's "Race and Criminality"
shows how blacks have become a racially criminalized commodity in America's
rapidly expanding prison industry. "The House That Race Built"
is a strong, intelligent weapon against racism.
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