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?
Filed under Black History, books, genres, poetry, prose, publishing, read, reading, research, short stories, writers
In Panhandle Professional Writers we strive to keep our blog free of religious and political slants. We are people of vastly varied backgrounds and represent the same diversity of viewpoints as are represented in any average American city. But today is one of those days it can’t be avoided. So I will keep the comments brief and relevant to writing.
When I think of this tragic day I have trouble referring to it as 911. The meaning of what took place on this day somehow loses its importance to me. September 11, 2001 however, is a date I hope the world remembers forever.
For me it’s like November 22, 1963 the date of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Older Americans can add to these memories dates such as December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor day, or the October, 1929 crash of Wall Street. All these are important dates in American history. Days we personally remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time.
As writers, we have an unspoken obligation to our readers. Whether you write nonfiction or fiction; if you are writing a story taking place during that time and want to include this date as part of the back drop or in the viewpoint of your characters, or simply to write an account of that day from your own perspective, please remember this: You can put your character’s personal slant to the subject in fiction, but the account of historical events should be accurate.
Do your research, don’t count on personal memory. Even the best of us can confuse the details, especially when recalling an event that held such extreme emotion for all Americans. So do the research to get the facts right. Your words will last forever. There are many young readers throughout the world who will not have an understanding of that day. Their knowledge will be gleaned from what history books and even fiction set in that time period tells them.
This is how I intend to honor the memory of all who lost their lives on that day, by accurately depicting the events and giving voice to all those who lost theirs on that tragic date.
How will you, as a writer, memorialize September 11, 2001?
*Photo courtesy USAfederalholiday.com
The most common writing advice I have received is to “read, read, read and write, write, write.” When I first heard this, I thought the reading part was easy. After all, I loved to read; it’s one of the reasons I’m a writer. But at the time, I would finish a book, make a mental note of whether I thought it was good or not, and move on to the next one. Recently, I discovered a different approach to my reading. I started noticing the pieces that make a book work and applying them to my own writing. So here’s my advice on reading:
First, learn about the mechanics of a story by reading books about writing or attending writing workshops. That way you’ll know the basics of what to look for. Then, when you finish a book, ask yourself what you liked about it. Was it the interesting characters, exciting plot, vivid descriptions, or did something else jump out at you? Likewise, if you didn’t like the book, or worse, couldn’t finish it, ask what went wrong. Were the characters flat, the plot boring, pacing too slow? Reading books in this way helps you to know what to put in to your writing and what to leave out. And it enables you to reach the ultimate goal of writing a book your readers can’t put down.