The month of February is Black History month. I did a little research to find out more about some of the African-American writers who deserve to be honored this month.
We are all familiar with writers, such as Terry McMillan author of Waiting to Exhale (1992); and Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Prize winner and author of Beloved (1987) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. The list also includes such writers as Alex Haley whose book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) was adapted to a popular television mini-series in 1977.
But the list of African-American writers of note not only includes these famous individuals and those such as poets Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou as well as novelist Alice Walker; it also includes more obscure names–people whose works you might have read and not realized that they were African-American.
Frank Yerby was an historical novelist best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation. The book, The Foxes of Harrow (1946) became the Oscar-nominated film “Foxes” starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.
Samuel R. Delany is an author, professor and literary critic. His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir and criticism.
Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was a Hugo and Nebulla award-winning author of science fiction.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman to publish a book. Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 or 8 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.
The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame, both in England, and the Thirteen Colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley’s visit to England, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem.
This list is woefully incomplete. It would take far too much time to list every African-American writer–past and present–whose name deserves inclusion in such a list. During the month of February I challenge readers to visit the internet or your local library to discover the work of more of the gifted writers whose names belong here and share with PPW what you find. Who is your favorite? What genre do they write?
- Black History Moment: Lillian Evanti; 1st African American To Perform In Major European Opera Company (theobamacrat.com)