Building a Library: Black American Literature

Article excerpt

To build a contemporary black American library one must look not at who is on the shelf today, but who will still be studied and embraced a century from now. The books of Alice Walker, Walter Mosley, Bell Hooks, Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, will all endure. Post-integration accumulation of immigrant cultures contributes a broader understanding of the world beyond black America: look to the work of Paule Marshall, Jamaica Kincaid and Edwidge Danticat. In John Edgar Wideman, former Rhodes Scholar and I think one of the best short story artists alive, we have a buried national treasure. I'm convinced that Wideman, as Zora Neale Hurston has, will rise from the ashes.

The giant of Black American writers, whose entire body of fiction and non-fiction documents the experiences that have come to denote the African- American 'condition', is Toni Morrison, my personal favourite. Not for her Nobel Prize, but because black American women will never put up with Pecola Breedlove (The Bluest Eye), the eponymous Sula or Sethe (Beloved) being forgotten.

When 20-year-old former slave turned abolitionist poet Phyllis Wheatley published the first book ever by an African-American (Poems on Various Subjects, 1773), the primary thematic continuity in black American writing became the struggle to overcome racism and its effects. …