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There has been a transformational shift of African American literature in the United States over the years (from World War 11 to the modern period). African American literature represents the body of literature published and produced by authors of African descent (Willis, 1998). Before World War 11 and the periods up to the 19th century, writers such as Phillis Wheatley concentrated on writing about slave narratives and autobiographical spiritual narratives (Willis, 1998). This paper will broach the analysis of the theme of racism, art, and politics in such writers as Du Bois, Washington, Amiri Bakari Charles Gordone, and Toni Morrison, who reveals how African American literature has shifted from civil movements to civil movements through the WW11, Black Arts, and Contemporary Periods.
The WW11 Period (1945 – 1965)
Soon after the termination of WW11, some African American writers debated how to curb and eradicate racism in the United States (Willis, 1998). Writers such as DuBois and Washington were forefront in fighting for racial inclusivity of black nationals (Willis, 1998). During this period, civil rights movements campaigned to end the legalization of racial segregation, racial discrimination, and disenfranchisement in the United States (Willis, 1998). In his book, “Dubois and The Scientific Study of Race,” he claimed that the late nineteenth century was influenced by white supremacy, which needed to change by confronting the lies about black Americans propagated by American anthropologists and social scientists (Lange, 1983). Dubois followed the work of Booker Washington, who had published a book entitled “Up From Slavery” (1901), which asked questions on social inequality and the enjoyment of privileges by all races (Hicks, 2006).
The Black Arts Movement (BAM) (1965 – 1975)
The BAM was an African American nationalism movement that operated through activism and art such as poetry and music, intending to create cultural institutions that disseminated a message of ‘black pride’ (McMillon, 2019). The movement applied political ideas and aesthetic power to portray the beauty of the African man and avoid the poor perception of the black experience (McMillon, 2019). Amiri Bakari initiated the BAM through his poem, “The Black Magic” to show solidarity, national hood, and self-determination of the African Americans (McMillon, 2019). While the WW2 period deliberated on simple writings and literature, the Black Arts period made the liberation and non-discrimination of the African American entertaining and set a platform for negotiations and inclusivity. In 1969, Charles Gordone won the Pulitzer Prize in his work, “No Place to Be Somebody,” depicting a black hustler and bar attendant who attempts to outsmart a white mobster (Gordone, 1969).
Contemporary Periods (1975 – Present)
Like the immemorial beginning of the African American writings, the current literature focuses on the ideas and themes of racism and equality. Artistic explosion and enjoyment depicted the African American culture through the development of the Harlem Renaissance, which had started in the Black Arts era (Van Lambalgen, 2009). In the contemporary period, artists manifest equality, non-discrimination, and end of segregation through stage performance and literature writing (Ojaide, 2009). Writers aspire to shape a sense of independence and pride among the African American community. Toni Morison, a black novelist, Pulitzer Price Nobel Prize winner, was accorded for addressing the impact and consequences of racism in America (Roynon, 2019). Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1997) discusses racial and sexual equality in America (Roynon, 2019). What makes Morrison’s work in the contemporary period different from the work of WW11 and the Black Arts is that she combined different viewpoints and voices by strategically withholding information to make the picture evolve and always reveal something new (Roynon, 2019).
From the WW11 period of African American literature to the current contemporary period, there has been a transformational shift in the progress of how the African American advocates for equality and non-discrimination of the black people. The theme of African American literature is to bring inclusivity and equality in America and live in harmonious non-racial discrimination. During WW11, Dubois and Washington questioned American authorities on social inequality. During the BAM, writers used artistic style to pass a message of equality. Finally, the contemporary period has seen a period where writers like Morrison use arts and withholding of information to give a message of equality.
Gordone, C. (1969). No place to be somebody: a black black comedy in three acts. Samuel French, Inc.
Hicks, S. (2006). WEB Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Richard Wright: Toward an Ecocriticism of Color. Callaloo, 29(1), 202-222.
Lange, W. J. (1983). WEB DuBois and the first scientific study of Afro-America. Phylon (1960-), 44(2), 135-146.
McMillon, K. C. (2019). The Women of the Black Arts Movement and the Rise of the Ancestors (Doctoral dissertation, UC Merced).
Ojaide, T. (2009). Examining canonization in modern African literature. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 3(1), 1-20.
Roynon, T. (2019). In search of home: How Toni Morrison transformed American literature. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/how-toni-morrison-transformed-american-literature/11407066
Van Lambalgen, E. H. (2009). Dance as Black Art: Development and Reception of African American Dance in the Black Arts Movement (Master’s thesis).
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