Just as the coronavirus pandemic has started to wind down slowly, a new crisis has emerged, bringing with it mass protests around the world. The Black Lives Matter movement and its attempt to eliminate police brutality, systemic racism, and injustice have taken 2020 by storm, and we here at EssayService are doing our utmost to support Black culture in such a tense time. In order to accomplish this, our essay order service have decided to educate you on the history of black authors in the USA and their overall impact that led to the expansion of American Literature. On this page, you will be introduced to 15 black authors that will have their names forever ingrained in history and their books read by millions worldwide.
After the American Civil War and the liberation of enslaved African Americans across the continent, many rose to prominence for depicting harsh lives and realities they experienced during their time in enslavement. Since then, the number of black authors has soared, with many of them talking about their experience of being black in America, as the country is torn between those who support the rights of blacks, and those in power who segregate communities, create poor conditions for life within black neighborhoods and historically have tried to mute black culture or render it insignificant, thankfully to zero effort. African-American literature has progressed over the years, and here we take a look at some prominent black essay writers who have made an impact on American history.
Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects, Religion and Moral. Poems is the first book ever written and published by an African American, and Wheatley was the first to achieve a global reputation as an African-American writer. Her book of poems was published three years before America gained its independence.
Jarena Lee was the first African-American woman to write and publish a spiritual autobiography, The Life and Religious Experience.
William Wells Brown published Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, which is the first novel written by an African American. The book depicts the destructive effects of slavery on African-American families as well as the harsh experiences of American mulattoes (or people of mixed race). Brown’s work portrays the degraded and immoral conditions of the relationship between the master and the slave in the United States of America.
William Wells Brown had also published the first African-American play called The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom.
Ellen Watkins Harper became the first African-American woman to publish a short story. The Two Offers was published in 1859 in the Anglo-African Magazine.
Harriet Wilson publishes Our Nig, which is known as the first African-American novel to be published in the United States of America. Upon publication, Wilson became the first African-American woman who had ever published a novel.
W.E.B. DuBois published Souls of Black Folk in Chicago. This is a collection of essays that explore the concept of double consciousness and work that would go on to influence a plethora of African-American writers and novelists.
Was a prominent writer who had escaped from slavery and would go on to become a phenomenal public speaker, an iconic leader in the abolitionist movement, and one of the most famous African-American authors. Several of his prominent books are autobiographical, depicting his experiences whilst in enslavement. Douglass was extremely intelligent. The contribution of Frederick Douglass education essay was shattering the slaveholders’ claims that people of color did not possess the intellectual capacity to be free people in America.
Frederick Douglass’s works are an important part of the American autobiography genre. In Learning to Read and Write, Frederick Douglass promoted the importance of education as the only way to freedom. His vivid depictions of life in enslavement have fueled the abolitionist movement and revealed grim truths as to the inhumane conditions which enslavers created for people. Further progressing his status as an abolitionist leader and a prominent figure of African-American literature, he created a newspaper in 1847 called The North Star, which was very influential at the time. Other achievements include his powerful 4th of July speech and his dedication to helping African Americans gain the right to vote. On April 21, 1877, Douglass became the first African American to be appointed a U.S. Marshal.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the most famous narratives written by former enslaved African Americans. This memoir and treatise on abolition reveal events and details of Douglass’s life in eleven chapters which describe his life during enslavement and his ambitions to become a free man. Inspired by Frederick Douglass, essay, short story, and novel writers of African-American origin shared their stories with the world.
My Bondage and My Freedom is another autobiographical narrative by Douglass. It is mostly an expansion of the aforementioned work, depicting in detail his journey from bondage to freedom. It remains a crucially important piece of black literature.
Was an American novelist, anthropologist, and folklorist, who was a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance among other black writers in New York City. Hurston grew up as a daughter of two formerly enslaved African Americans and supported herself financially with her efforts, eventually gaining her an associate’s degree from Howard University. In the 1920s, she moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood and became a prominent figure in the art scene there. Hurston’s apartment was a central spot for social gatherings, and she became friends with people like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, who were other key players in black literature and art at the time. Zora Neale Hurston essay collections on American black folklife, history, politics, and culture provide insights into her philosophy and personality. Apart from that, she wrote four novels, more than fifty short stories, plays, and had many magazine publications, and a short-lived magazine she created along with her friends in Harlem.
Hurston studied a lot throughout her life. She went to Hungerford Normal and Industrial school for educational training and then the Morgan Academy, a black prep school, before graduating from Howard Academy with a high school diploma in 1919. When she was at Howard University, she became a member of a sorority and a theatrical troupe. That was when she began pursuing literary interests. Zora Neale Hurston poems gave voice to the Harlem Renaissance and black culture. She gained an Associate of Arts degree from Howard University and pursued Anthropology at Barnard College under Franz Boas. Hurston gained much recognition after she had passed away, becoming an important figure of American Literature and one of the most famous black authors of all time.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a classic of the Harlem Renaissance and Hurston’s best work. The central character is a teenage girl “with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny.” Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston explores gender roles, oppression faced by Black women, and their own struggle for independence.
Sweat is one of her most famous short stories, a work of fiction depicting the life of a washerwoman Delia and her unemployed husband Sykes. The story uncovers the emotional and psychological consequences of an abusive relationship. Delia goes through struggles to discover her strength and freedom in independence from men.
Was an American poet, activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He has made his career in New York City and is considered an innovator for his creation of jazz poetry and a key figure in African-American Literature. Hughes became prolific as a writer from a young age and even studied at Columbia University in NYC. During his time there and when he dropped out, he gained lots of attention from publishers in the area before becoming part of the artistic community in Harlem, a community that would become very significant in black literature. Langston Hughes High School was named after the poet for his contribution as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.
Hughes and his contemporaries (African-American writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, to name a few) were interested in portraying the lives of working-class African Americans in Harlem at the time. Low-life was a key focus of their art. They cared about portraying realism through laughter, struggle, joy, and music. Hughes and his fellow artists cared little about anyone else’s ‘opinion’ of their work. In his own words, “We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too… We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.” For his confrontation of racial stereotypes and social conditions, Hughes was considered a people’s poet on a mission to reeducate people and lift stereotypes attributed to blacks in order to portray the reality in its fullest range of emotion.
The Weary Blues was considered the best poem of the year in the Urban League magazine, where it was published in 1925. It tells the story of a blues black piano player in Harlem. In The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes channels the power and beauty of black art through music as well as addresses the oppression and injustice that black people endured at that time.
Not Without Laughter is Hughes’s debut novel and one of the most famous books by black authors. It portrays African-American life in Kansas, talking a lot about class, religion, and the community. By publishing Not Without Laughter, Langston Hughes showed that he wasn’t only a great poet but also a brilliant novelist.
Was a novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright. He is widely considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. James Baldwin essays in Notes of a Native Son explore racial and social issues as well as the experience of being Black in America. He was born the eldest son and had never known his biological father. His stepfather had never given him care and love while he was growing up. However, Baldwin grew under the mentorship of Beauford Delaney, who was a prominent artist at the time and urged young James to explore himself through creativity. He inspired James Baldwin poems like Amen and Staggerlee Wonders. Baldwin was homosexual, and that, in addition to being black, had him face abuse and discrimination. Disappointed by oppression and racism, he moved to France and pursued his writing career, becoming one of the most influential black writers of the 20th century.
Some of James Baldwin’s achievements and awards include the George Polk Award and the Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Award. He was also included in the list of 100 Greatest African Americans by the scholar Molefi Kete Asante in 2002. For writing Go Tell It on the Mountain,Just Above My Head, and Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin is considered a brilliant novelist and short story writer.
One of the author’s most prominent narratives is Sonny’s Blues. James Baldwin addresses the issues of substance abuse, suffering, and salvation. Through family bonds between Sonny and his brother, the author also shows how the power of art can bridge gaps in relationships and bring people closer.
The Fire Next Time is another book by Baldwin, which has two essays. The first is dealing with race and American History, and the second is drawn from the experiences of Baldwin as Christian and Islamic ideas of people living in Harlem.
Was an American author, screenwriter, actress, dancer, poet, and civil rights activist. She made history with her nonfiction book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It included an autobiographical piece authored by Maya Angelou, Graduation. It conveys what it was like to gain education during the times of racial segregation as a black person. As a civil rights movement activist, Angelou traveled with Malcolm X and helped him in his political efforts. After she was arrested in the States, Malcolm X was assassinated.
Nothing stopped her from continuing her work with the civil rights movement. She helped raise money for Martin Luther King Jr. and also supported him heavily up until his death. Angelou was friends with James Baldwin, who, after the time of King’s assassination, inspired her to write. This was when she began work on the groundbreaking book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Many of Maya Angelou books became best-sellers and got nominated for dozens of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award.
Angelou was also the first Black woman who wrote a screenplay for a major film called Georgia, Georgia. She eventually directed her own film in 1998 called Down in the Delta.
In the poem Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou challenges stereotypical assumptions of what a woman should look like. The poet refers to the concepts of body image and femininity, trying to redefine them for herself and other women.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s autobiography published in 1969. It is a coming-of-age story that talks about her early years. The book addresses the issues of rape, trauma, racism, and literacy. It was nominated for a National Book Award and got a 1979 film adaptation of the same name.
Is an acclaimed novelist, essayist, and poet. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple was adapted into a film of the same name by Steven Spielberg. Other famous Alice Walker books are The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, and The Temple of My Familiar. Much like everybody else on this list, she is also known for her activism and influence on black literature.
Walker grew up poor in a family of eight children. Her mother worked as a maid to support them. At the age of 8, she was shot in her right eye with a BB gun, and the accident made her withdraw socially, thinking that she was “ugly and disfigured.” As a result, she had withdrawn into reading and writing poetry.
Walker’s good results in school helped her win a scholarship at Spelman College in Atlanta, after which she had switched to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Walker published her first short story in 1965 and became heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement after graduation. She participated in the 1963 March on Washington and was one of the many African American Writers to detail the march. Alice Walker quotes about race and identity inspired activists to go through challenging times.
The lives of black women in the Southern United States are the main focus of The Color Purple. Alice Walker raises the issues of spirituality, race, gender, and self-discovery. It’s one of the most influential novels in black literature that entered the list of the BBC’s The Big Read poll of the “best-loved novels.”
In the short story Everyday Use, Alice Walker depicts black heritage. The story is set in the Deep South, where Mama lives with her two daughters. The girls have contrasting personalities and different views on their identity and cultural background.
Was an American novelist who had won both the Nobel and the Pulitzer Prize. She was also an editor and a professor. Toni Morrison poems are known for their epicness, exquisite language, and richly detailed African-American characters. Morrison was the second oldest of four children, and her parents got her into reading, music, and folklore from an early age. Her father worked as a welder and supported his family with several other jobs, while her mother was a domestic worker.
Morrison graduated high school with Honors and attended Howard University, where she continued pursuing literature. At Cornell University, she wrote a thesis on Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner and got a master’s degree in 1955. Toni Morrison books got numerous awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988.
The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison is among the most stunning works in African-American literature. It is Morrison’s first published novel that tells the story of a black girl who grew up after the Great Depression. This story revolves around the girl having a deep inferiority complex due to her mannerisms and dark skin, which fuels the desire for blue eyes.
In her first published short story, Recitatif, Toni Morrison challenges stereotypes that surround the issue of racial identity. Morrison explores contrasting themes — friendship and social exclusion, childhood and adulthood, prejudice and inclusion. Through her characters, Roberta and Twyla, she conducts “the removal of all racial codes.”
Was an American science fiction author who had won several industry awards during her career, including the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. She was the first sci-fi writer and black author to receive a MacArthur genius fellowship.
Butler grew up in the racially integrated, diverse community of Pasadena. Her experience turned into one of the remarkable Octavia Butler quotes from Adulthood Rites, “Embrace difference.” She graduated from John Muir High School and Pasadena City College with an associate of arts degree. During that time, she won in her first writing contest. Ever since, her interest in literature only grew, and she became known for her fascinating blend of science fiction and African-American spiritualism.
Butler was dyslexic, but that didn’t stop her from delving into books. She started writing and creating stories from a very young age, dedicating herself fully to literature at the age of 10. She maintained a very strict writing schedule while taking many jobs to make ends meet. She wrote for several hours in the early morning. Three years after publishing her first novel, she had a career breakthrough with the novel Kindred.
Patternmaster is a notable book in the science fiction genre. It shows the future of a divided human race split between three classes of people. Octavia Butler Patternmaster touches upon the fundamental themes like class division, power, responsibility, and control.
As another successful book authored by Octavia Butler, Kindred can’t leave the reader indifferent. It is a remarkable slave narrative that incorporates time travel. This book is widely popular today and is considered one of the greatest novels in African-American literature in the sci-fi genre.
Was a famed playwright and the “theater’s poet of Black America.” August Wilson poetry revolves around the African-American experience in the 20th century US as well as the themes of race, identity, and racial discrimination. He was born to an African-American mother and a German immigrant father. When Wilson was a child, his parents moved to a poor and mostly white neighborhood in Oakland, where Wilson faced racism and bigotry. He changed schools several times and before pursuing education independently at the age of 16. When he was 20, he focused on literature and began writing his first plays.
August Wilson earned a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for his play Fences and another Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson. His plays were frequently seen on the Broadway stage and known to be very influential. He is best known for The Pittsburgh Cycle, which is ten plays set during different decades in the 20th century, focused on the black experience in each decade. He was very influential as a playwright, and August Wilson books are often talked about when it comes to influential black authors on Broadway.
Fences is an award-winning play that belongs to Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. The story revolves around the life of Troy Maxson, a trash collector and former athlete. He is deeply damaged by racial oppression and struggles for justice. Wilson raises the problems of race, idealism, duty, and betrayal in his conflicted and complex character. Consider writing “Fences by August Wilson Essay” for your literature classes as it is full of compelling symbols and allegories that will be interesting to interpret.
If you’re interested in African-American literature and, in particular, August Wilson, the Pittsburgh Cycle should be on your reading list. It’s a collection of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, from Gem of the Ocean narrating events of the 1900s through Radio Golf with the reflection of the black experience in the 1990s. Wilson’s plays always feature strong female characters inspired by his experiences growing up with a strong matriarch. The entire Pittsburgh Cycle was first performed at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Many other theatre companies have produced it ever since with enormous success.
Was an African-American author, social activist, documentary filmmaker, and professor from Harlem, New York City. She was born Miltona Mirkin Cade and changed her name to Toni at the age of 6, before including the name Bambara, which was the name of a West African ethnic group.
Bambara attended Queens College in 1964, an institution with a predominantly white population. She was initially interested in becoming a doctor but had become fascinated with arts and became an English major. Toni Cade Bambara books reflected the author’s interest in jazz, theatre, and many different forms of art.
After graduating in 1959, she went to Paris to study mime and got interested in dance before returning to NYC to complete her master’s degree. Bambara also worked as a recreation director in the psychiatric ward of Metropolitan Hospital. Later, she worked as an English instructor and assistant professor and helped with lectures at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.
Bambara is notable for her activism and work in black communities concerning feminism and black awareness. She is amongst the most exemplary and academia-oriented African-American writers.
Gorilla, My Love depicts the story of a young girl, Hazel, who values loyalty and integrity above all. She narrates her own story that reflects conflicts between children and adults. From a young age, Hazel feels a lack of respect and honesty from grown-ups, and they fail to demonstrate trustworthiness. Bambara managed to give voice to under-represented adolescents in 1970s fiction.
Written by Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson is a first-person narrative set in Harlem, New York City. The protagonist, Sylvia, recalls the time when she meets Miss Moore, a young educated woman who has just moved into the neighborhood. Neither local children nor their parents like her, but she still tries to inspire them to speak up and change the society they live in. The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara essay is a popular choice for learners and one of the most famous short stories about the black experience in Harlem.
Is an American poet who has been fascinated with poetry and music since she was young. She was an exemplary learner and was even invited to the White House as a Presidential Scholar. Dove studied in Germany and later taught creative writing at Arizona State University. In 1987, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry book called Thomas and Beulah. Dove is also among the most famous black authors in academia.
After studying in Germany, she met her future husband, and the two married in 1979 and had a daughter, Aviva. Later on, she established a career in academia, becoming a professor at the University of Virginia and an esteemed poet with multiple awards. Rita Dove poetry is known for its layered eloquence of language and portrayal of the black experience in America, taken from her personal life and observing what was happening at the time.
Dove was named the poet laureate of the United States, a title given to no other black authors before her. She is the first African American, first woman, and youngest person to ever be appointed to this position at only 41 years old. After her laureate post was done, she received a National Humanities Medal from then-president Bill Clinton and also received the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities the very same year for Rita Dove poems. She also got the 2017 NAACP Image Award and for her Collected Poems, including Rita Dove Heart to Heart.
In the book of poems Thomas and Beulah, Dove tells us the story of her maternal grandparents intertwined with elements of fiction. The book is split into two halves, the first focusing on her grandfather, Thomas, and the second on her grandmother, Beulah.
Heart to Heart by Rita Dove is an eloquent example of contemporary poetry. It stands out from other works in Dove’s bibliography. While most of them are focused on history and politics, Heart to Heart is a deep and ominous poem about love and emotion. It’s not unusual to encounter “heart” as a metaphor in poetry, but the way Dove approached the topic is unique and out-of-the-box.
Is a Kirrian-British writer, novelist, playwright, and essayist. His novels have won multiple awards, and his works are primarily interested in exploring the experiences of the African diaspora in different places of the world, including England, the Caribbean, and the USA. He is one of the many black writers to detail the black experience outside the United States. Philips is also an academic and a Professor of English and has worked in several institutions, including Barnard College, Amherst College, and Yale University.
Philips was born in St.Kitts, an island in the West Indies. His family had moved to England when he was four months old. Philips went to Queen’s College at Oxford University, where he was fascinated with reading English literature. After graduation, Philips moved to Edinburgh and lived on the dole while writing his first play, later moving to London, where he wrote two more. His literary career would progress after he visited his place of birth (St.Kitts) at the age of 22. This trip was his primary source of inspiration for his first book, which he published five years later, which placed him among highly influential black authors.
As the author of The Final Passage, Crossing the River, and Cambridge, Caryl Phillips has received numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize. He’s done a lot to uncover the themes of the African slave trade, ideas of origins, belonging, and exclusion in his essays and novels.
Phillips grew up near the place where the Brontë family lived. It’s easy to see the influence of Wuthering Heights and its iconic enigmatic character Heathcliff on his novel, The Lost Child. Caryl Phillips creates a heartbreaking story where he raises the themes of ancestry and belonging.
In Crossing the River, Caryl Philips explored the issues of identity and struggle. The novel is about three black people who struggle with their separation from Africa. The characters are vastly different, yet they experience similar racial injustices and hardships, a theme tackled by all African-American books on our list.
Was born and raised in Washington, DC, and had been educated at two institutions: the College of the Holy Cross and the University of Virginia. Edward P. Jones is known for his novels and short stories, which depict the effects of slavery in America before the Civil War. His vivid characters represent the majority of working-class African Americans.
Jones is a New York Times bestselling author who has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Known World and PEN/Hemingway Award for Lost in the City. Aside from being a renowned novelist, he’s also famous for his short stories. For The Girl Who Raised Pigeons, His Mother’s House, and The First Day, Edward P. Jones earned a National Book Award nomination.
The first novel written by Edward P. Jones, Lost in the City, is a collection of short stories about the African-American working-class set in the 20th century. The characters include some first-generation immigrants who have come to DC with the Great Migration from the South.
Jones’s second book, The Known World, includes a protagonist of mixed race, also a black planter and a slaveholder. This book won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004 and is considered one of the most influential books by black authors. The Known World is set during the antebellum era and is focused on the issues of owning enslaved African Americans by both white and black slavers. Not many black writers talked about these topics the same way as Jones, who was heavily praised for his use of prose in the novel. The book is especially notable for how Jones gives vivid accounts of the situation and intertwines one story within the other without imposing any opinion or bias on the reader.
Was born in Bret, England, on October 25, 1975. She changed her name from Sadie to Zadie at the age of 14. Smith went to several schools before enrolling in King’s College in Cambridge, where she majored in literature. There, she published a number of short stories in The Mays Anthology. Many of Zadie Smith books became best-sellers and were received well by critics.
Zadie Smith, author of a best-seller White Teeth, became celebrated among contemporary black writers with her debut book. She became highly acclaimed upon the release of White Teeth and has enjoyed a career in literature since then. Smith won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her book Oh Beauty and the Guardian First Book Award for White Teeth. She has also received the Langston Hughes Medal for being an influential and distinguished author associated with the African-American diaspora.
The first book written by Zadie Smith, White Teeth, was published before it was even finished. It was an instant classic and a best-seller. For this book, Smith was awarded the Betty Trask Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The novel would go on to become a TV adaptation in 2002.
White Teeth focuses on two people who become friends during wartime and live with their families in London. The book’s central subject continues the idea of black literature with its interest in the relationship between Britain and people from formerly colonized countries.
The latest novel published by Zadie Smith, Swing Time, is a story about two tap dancers. One of the central topics explored in the book is the search for identity. The narrator struggles to make her self-image and the way society perceives her coexist. It gets into every dimension of her experience, both in personal and professional life.
Is an American author and journalist who has gained a significant readership working as a national correspondent at The Atlantic. There, he was known for talking about issues regarding African Americans, including cultural, social issues, political issues, and white supremacy. Since then, he has worked in several high-profile papers, including The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. As for Ta-Nehisi Coates books, he is the author of best-sellers The Water Dancer and Between the World and Me.
Coates is a journalist, writer, memoirist, and public intellectual. He has received the ASA Award for the Reporting of Social Issues, with hundreds of ASA members urging the committee to give the award to him. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
A nonfiction book written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, is the reflection of the wide themes of race, oppression, fear, identity, justice, and father-son relationships. It takes the form of a letter from the writer to his son. Coates draws from his experience of being Black in the US. After reading the book, Toni Morrison wrote that it fills “the intellectual void” left by James Baldwin. The Guardian included it in the list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.
After the literary success that came with Between the World and Me, Coates published one more compelling book called The Beautiful Struggle. It is a memoir of his father, Paul Coates, a Vietnam vet and autodidact. He dedicated his life to raising his sons as proud Black men and telling the history of African civilization.