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African American Literature
A Nation’s Truth

African American Literature
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (by )
  • The Souls of Black Folk (by )
  • Mule Bone a Comedy of Negro Life (by )
  • My bondage and my freedom By Frederick D... (by )
  • Narrative of the life of Frederick Dougl... (by )
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In February, the birth month of famed abolitionist, orator, and writer Frederick Douglass, the world celebrates the contributions African-Americans have made to film, music, fashion, cuisine, art, and literature, and every other facet in American society. 

Early works, like Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), exposed to the nation the inhumane deprivation imposed upon African-Americans for centuries. In 1861, just six years after Douglass’ second work, Harriet Ann Jacobs, a young mother and fugitive slave, wrote her own account, along with abolitionist and women’s and Native American rights activist Lydia Maria Child. Their book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, detailed the horrors enslaved women faced, including sexual assault and the efforts necessary to be a mother during such seemingly impossible conditions.   

The following crop of African-American writers continued to pursue their own ideas of dignified self-discovery, allowing for thoughtful dialogue within the country. W. E. B. Du Bois, the scholar, professor, sociologist, and writer who used the term “double consciousness” in his book of essays and theories The Souls of Black Folk (1903), suggested that African-Americans are doubly concerned: how they perceive their own blackness, and how it is perceived by the world. 
A couple of decades later during a time of new artistic exploration, Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, hosted an African-American cultural renaissance. The murals and illustrations of Aaron Douglas addressed the societal disparities to which African-Americans were subjected. Langston Hughes, an acclaimed poet and writer during the Harlem Renaissance, and Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes were Watching God (1937), led a movement that propelled proud, talented African-Americans to express what so many others experienced daily. Still, they sought to examine all sides of African-American life, and their joint effort Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life (1931), offered a lighter portrayal of African-Americans. 

The writers and artists succeeding them, including photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, whose work examined the civil rights movement, poverty in the United States, and even glamour and style, and James Baldwin, one of the most important writers in American history, poignantly addressed its racist history. In more recent decades filmmakers like Spike Lee, and writers like Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, author of Pulitzer-winning novel The Color Purple (1982) and Toni Morrison reimagined the devastation experienced by writers like Harriet Ann Jacobs, and the residual effects they themselves must deal with. This month, and every month, World Library offers powerful works of fiction, essays, articles, and poems created by bold African-American writers. 

By Logan Williams



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