African-American Anthology `Talks Back' and `Talks Black'

By Weightman, Sharon | The Florida Times Union, February 23, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

African-American Anthology `Talks Back' and `Talks Black'

Weightman, Sharon, The Florida Times Union

"How long, how long, how long?"

That's the question songwriter Leroy Carr repeats in How Long

Blues, one of the selections at the beginning of the recently

released Norton Anthology of African American Literature.

In the case of the anthology itself, the answer is 2,665

pages. And an entire decade.

Yes, it took 10 years to create this tome, an overview from

1746 to the present, featuring poetry, fiction, drama,

autobiography, journals and more, from 120 African-American


Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay served as general

editors and nine eminent scholars served as period editors.

Here, side by side, are major works and once-forgotten pieces,

the anonymous authors of No More Auction Block for Me and Steal

Away to Jesus alongside Pulitzer Prize-winners Gwendolyn Brooks,

Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and August Wilson. Also included is

Pulitzer nominee Maya Angelou, who praised the book as

diminishing "the dangerous ignorance about our collective past."

"I pray every American home will boast of owning at least one

copy," she said in the anthology's promotional copy.

The anthology's publication is bound to make the teaching and

study of African-American literature a much easier process. Not

only do the editors establish a canon of what's most important

in this literary tradition, the anthology makes those works

accessible, portable and fairly affordable as textbooks go.

And there are three added attractions.

The first is a thoughtful preface by Gates and McKay explaining

that in earlier centuries the mere existence of writings by

African-Americans was a challenge to slavery. The ability to

read and write and reason refuted the slave-owners'

justification of slavery on the basis that blacks were

"uncivilized" and less than fully human.

The second attraction, praised to me by local scholar Roderick

Williams, is a 12-page time-line that integrates literary events

with general historical events in a way that gives the

literature a more meaningful context.

But third, and most ground-breaking, is the availability of a

companion compact disc (sold separately) with 21 tracks of

recordings from the section of the anthology that covers the

"vernacular" or oral tradition.

As Gates and McKay point out in the preface, all literatures

are based on an oral tradition but "in the instance of our

literary tradition, the oral, or the vernacular, is never far

from the written.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

African-American Anthology `Talks Back' and `Talks Black'


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?