Vol. 4 No.1                                                                                                          May, 1999

American Literature Association Conference

 Baltimore, Maryland

Looking Back with Pleasure II

Margaret Abigail Walker Alexander: A Voice for Her People  

One of the working titles she chose for her autobiography was Call Me Cassandra. As she revealed in an interview, Margaret Walker felt the title emphasized significant matters: vision, ritual, ceremony, the importance of myth in human life, and family history. Such things, especially varieties of history, were crucial in the worldview that informed Walker's early and later works. Margaret Walker's long, influential, and richly creative life did involve some elements of tragedy. The larger portion of her life, however, involved celebration and joy. As she articulated the truth of her life in several genres, Margaret Walker maintained a strict and clear vision of the obligations of being a voice for her people. With her death we have loss one of the very few voices endowed with moral authority in the African Diaspora.

Walker was one of the most creative and complex intellectuals of our century, and one of the most remarkable tributes to her achievements came from her grandson Kahari Alexander a few days before her dying in Chicago.

"She touched the lives of millions of people," he said, "and lam glad to have been a part of that." Through her writings and public speaking, her teaching in university classrooms, her conceptualizing conferences such as the historical Phillis Wheatley Festival (1973), and her rounding of the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center at Jackson State University), Walker embodied the finest qualities of the intellectual humanist. Perhaps she succeeded well because she recognized that in a technological and destruction oriented age, a society can only redeem itself through the everyday use of civic virtues and humanistic practices. That the work of her life was redemptive and healing is beyond question.

Her Life

Walker was born July 7, 1915 in Birmingham, Alabama, the daughter of Sigismond Walker, a Methodist minister, and Marion Dozier Walker, a music teacher. Although she spent her childhood and youth in the viciously segregated South, Walker seems not to have been afflicted with the psychic wound of racism she poignantly describes in Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988). She was protected to some extent by having been raised in an educated, middle class family, surrounded by books and music and imbued with strong Christian values and belief in the ultimate dignity of humanity. She often drew attention to the inspiring character of her family and to the emphasis they placed on education and the life of the mind. On the other hand, Walker was also aware of oppression, injustice, and racism. The imprint of her formative years is reflected in the poems in For My People (1942) that express an ambivalence about the South and in Jubilee (1966), the culmination of her hearing stories of slave life from her maternal grandmother, Elvira Ware Dozier.

In 1925, the family moved to New Orleans. There she was educated at Gilbert Academy and finished high school at the age of fourteen. A precocious child, Walker completed two years of college at New Orleans University (Dillard University), where both of her parents taught.

It was not unusual that in such an academic environment the young Margaret Walker should have met such luminaries as James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. DuBois. In 1931 she was introduced to Langston Hughes, who read some of her poems and encouraged her to write and to get an education outside the South. The next year she transferred to Northwestern University from which she received a B.A. in English in 1935, a few months before her twentieth birthday. She had already published her first poems in The Crisis (1934) and had begun a draft of a Civil War story.

Walker's living in Chicago during the Depression years had a strong impact on her decision to be a writer. Shortly after graduating from Northwestern, she was hired by the Works Project Administration (WPA), first as a social worker and later as a member of Federal Writers' Project. Assigned to work on the Illinois Guidebook, Walker learned much about the urban life of her people and about the craft of writing. Between 1936 and 1939, she benefitted greatly from her friendships with the novelists Nelson Algren and Frank Yerby, poets Arna Bontemps and Frank Marshall Davis, the artist Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, and the playwright Theodore Ward. The quite special friendship was that with Richard Wright, whom she met in February 1936 at a meeting of the South Side Writers Group. She was impressed by Wright's commitment to social change and the power of his writing. They shared their works. She provided Wright with technical assistance. He broaden her vision of how literature could be a part of political action. She continued to help Wright after he moved to New York in 1937, sending him the newspaper clippings and other material on the Robert Nixon case, which Wright used in composing Native Son. During this period Walker completed an urban novel "Goose Island," which is unpublished. Her friendship with Wright ended in 1939, a painful experience that she treats in detail in her study of Richard Wright.

When her tenure with the Federal Writers' Project expired, Walker entered the University of Iowa to complete studies for the master's degree in creative writing and prepared the poems that would appear in For My People as her thesis.

Walker began what would be a distinguished teaching career at Livingston College in North Carolina and taught for one year at West Virginia State College. The Crisis proudly announced in its December 1942 issue that "Miss Margaret A. Walker, Department of English, West Virginia State College, has the distinction of being the 41st and only Negro winner of the coveted Yale University Series of Younger Poets prize. The prize carries $100 award plus royalties on the sale of her volume of poems "For My People" published October 20, 1942, by the Yale University Press, with foreword by Stephen Vincent Benet" (371). In June 1943, she married Firnist James Alexander. The fame she achieved with her first book was now complemented and also complicated by the prospect of trying to write a novel as she handled the responsibilities of being a wife and mother. A Rosenwald Fellowship in 1944 did enable her to resume research for the novel. The freedom to write was brief. She returned to teaching, moving in 1949 with her husband and three children to Jackson, Mississippi. She taught at Jackson State College (JSU) until her retirement in 1979.

Jackson became both harbor and site of frustration for Walker. Her teaching and her domestic duties left little time for sustained writing. She did some historical research from 1953 to 1954 with help from a Ford Fellowship, but she did little substantial work on the manuscript until she returned to the University of Iowa in 1962 to work on her doctorate in English. She finished both the degree and the dissertation version of Jubilee in 1965. She told the story of the long struggle to bring this novel to life in the essay "How l Wrote Jubilee" (1972).

 After the novel was published in 1966, Walker's publishing increased dramatically. Prophets for a New Day (1970) and October Journey (1973) created new audiences for her poetry as did the book A Poetic Equation: Conversation between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker. She completed the biography Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988) and published This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989). With editorial assistance from Maryemma Graham, she published How l Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature (1990) and On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932 1992 (1997). Among her unpublished works are God  Touched My Life, a biography of the late Sister Thea Bowman; a book on Jesse Jackson and black politics; Black eyed Susans, a book on Jackson State University; Minna and Jim, a sequel to Jubilee, and the novel Mother Broyer.

 Her Legacy, Her Gifts to People

"Few disagree," according to the headnote on Margaret Walker in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, "that Margaret Walker's reputation rests largely on the poems in For My People." Such a statement reflects the arrogant ignorance of the American culture industry, because more than a few of us agree that Walker's reputation is secure in the whole body of her work. Yes, the rhythms of "For My People" do quicken our blood and energize our thoughts about what history has been and what it should be in a future. And l saw the water in Amiri Baraka's eyes as Margaret Walker read her signature poem at the 1996 National Black Arts Festival. But we are fascinated also by Jubilee, by the example of what can be done with African American oral tradition and the applied theory of historical fiction. No doubt Sherley Anne Williams's Dessa Rose and Toni Morrison's Beloved are seeds that bloomed in the soil plowed by Jubilee. Walker's novel also serves an explanatory function in our study of American and Southern literature, especially in such works as Ellen Douglas's Can't Quit You, Baby and Elizabeth Cox's Night Talk (winner of the 1998 Lillian Smith Award) that deal with what Minrose Gwin rightly named the "peculiar sisterhood" within "the peculiar institution." To be sure, Jubilee is one of the finest stories we have of the movement from slavery to freedom. It also has compelling implications for understanding something about rituals of reconciliation among black and white Southern

Much awaits our (re) discovery in the body of work Margaret Walker gave to people. Prophets for a New Day, so full of love and passion about the Civil Rights Movement and the people who sometimes lost their lives in correcting the course of history, involves a special appropriation of Biblical history in figuring forth those heroes who are the prophets of our new day. The poems remind us that, for better or worse, certain forms of nationalism are tinted with Christian faith.  October Journey celebrates some of the people who had special meaning in Walker's life and the multitudes of African American people who must make their own "October Journey." This volume is to be read to understand the fortitude that sustained Walker in her career as intellectual, teacher, and writer. As a writer and scholar, Walker blended artistry and scholarship in Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius. Some readers have found the book puzzling, because it does not conform to conventional notions of what a critical biography should be. Let us in the future then read the book as the paradox it is, as a stunning example of autobiographical biography.

Poets issue editions of their collected work as a reminder of that for which they wish to be remembered. Such is the case with the one hundred poems in This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems  It contains "For Farish Street," which Margaret Walker thought of as one of the best poems she had ever written. It does not contain "Ripoff Roots Style," a poem that would raise serious questions about Alex Haley's integrity. I surmise that Walker would have us remember her less for her involvement in legal battles (other than her testimony in the famous Ayers case) and more for her questioning of legality in the American democratic process. The collected poems incorporate an ideational unity based on a synthesis of such key figures as DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr.,Malcolm X, Garvey, Freud, Marx, Einstein and Kierkegaard. In this sense, Walker's collected poems remind us that we need to explore the underlying project of her writing, the quest for understanding primal motives in contemporary cultures.

The speeches and essays brought together in How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature and in On Being Female, Black, and Free' Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932 1992 constitute a body of ideas that tell us much about Walker as a modern intellectual. Amiri Baraka predicted that the first collection would be required reading for American intellectuals, and his judgment reinforces a point Maryemma Graham made in the introduction. The book "illuminates Walker's importance to the history of ideas that has been reflected in Black writing in America for half a century and to contemporary developments in literary and social thought. In commenting upon the culture of America and the ideas so central to it  (religion, family, racial consciousness, the role of women) these essays serve as a useful introduction to Margaret Walker's thought." The introduction is enlarged by the ideas Walker and Nikki Giovanni discussed in A Poetic Equation and by the ideas that stretch over a period of six decades in On Being Female, Black, and Free. Let those who think Walker's reputation rests on a few poems know that it stands also on the tradition of radical situational address found, for example, in "Race, Gender, and the Law" (1993) and "Religion, Poetry, and History: Foundations for a New Educational System" (1968).

In Jackson, Mississippi there is a street, a public library, and a national research center named in Margaret Walker Alexander's honor. These monuments are important for public memory. It is probable that critical attention to Margaret Walker's importance as a national treasure will increase. That probability is important as we move toward authenticity in understanding American literature as a national one. These are necessary and good things. But they are neither so good nor so reassuring as the genuine respect and love evidenced by the many audiences who responded to Margaret Walker's lectures and readings. They obviously grasped the import of something that Walker said about a valuable lesson from her Chicago days:

I learned then that the ivory tower was no place for a black writer. And black writers who kept saying, "Well, I don't want to be called a Negro writer or a Negro poet or a black poet"  what else were they? They were poets mainly, but they were Negroes first. They were black men before they began to write. They came here male, and the next word was black. I have no desire to separate myself from what l am...from my race, from my gender, from my nationality, and from my consciousness. I'm black, woman, writer; I'm very Black Nationalist.

We who still live must balance our grief with our knowledge that within her lifetime of creating for people Margaret Walker had the distinction of being canonized in their minds, in their hearts.

From the President: “It’s a Celebration”

As we rocket like a Halle Bob towards the end of the second millennium,  pundits, historians, critics, soothsayers, and other mediumistics bombard us with assessments of the twentieth century, on the one hand, and  prognostications of what to expect in the third millennium, on the other hand.  From them, we learn that it  impossible to deny the revolutionary  impact the computer alone has had on our lives, much less other technological innovations and research from television and  space exploration, to scientific and medical research.  Taken together  progress made in these areas is seen as  giant steps forward for mankind in  the estimation of the many.

However, there is general consensus that when it comes to race and ethnic relations less measurable  progress can be made, specifically related to African Americans, despite the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown V.  Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, and the mass movements led by both Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and Malcolm X. 

Sadly true, as   Dr.  John Hope Franklin, the distinguished chronicler of the  African American’s gallant movement from slavery to freedom, tells us in  The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century: “the problem of the twenty-first century will be the problem of the color line.” Dr.  Franklin is not merely echoing or  appropriating. scholar-philosopher Dr. DuBois, who recorded a similar sentiment at  the beginning of the twentieth century in his now classic The Souls of Black Folk (1903).  In fact, Dr. Franklin moves beyond Dr. DuBois’ premise to argue that, remaining unsolved in the twentieth century, the problem of the color line “becomes part of the legacy and burden of the next century.  Consequently it follows the pattern that the nineteenth century bequeathed to the twentieth century and the eighteenth century handed to its successor.”  In other words,  Dr.  King’s dream of having the twentieth century record like never before American’s  stride towards  freedom remains elusive; it is  outdistanced by this legacy of the race/ing of America. 

To gain insight into the specific progress towards inclusivity African American writers made during the twentieth century, one needs only peruse the recent Modern Library Board’s assessment, selection and ranking of the 100 Best fiction published since 1900.  Topping their list, which includes the requisite works by James, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dreiser, Faulkner, and Steinbeck, are two Joyce novels, Ulysses and Portrait of an Artist.  Also present are the now generally approved  African American male “masters”: Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin.  Although  he was compared with Joyce and Eliot,  given his mastery of language and "formidable command of the technique of fiction,"  John E. Wideman, author of the “Homewood Trilogy” is not.  

Glaringly absent are African American women novelists, from Zora N. Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God,  to   Alice Walker, winner of the Pulitzer for her epistolary novel, The Color Purple, and  Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, author of Song of Solomon and Beloved, whose unquestionable impact on the American literary tradition not only broadened its spectrum but enhanced its credibility internationally.

This exclusion, if not erasure, occurred despite  claims that not only had African American literature been “discovered” to exist during this century but also that serious scholarship (as Morrison noted) had moved beyond “silencing the witnesses and erasing their meaningful place in and contribution to American culture.” In the final analysis, however, one must wonder if  perhaps Professor Gates was not correct when he suggested that writers and critics had done no more than  swatted flies rather than toppled a giant.

Might one not correctly surmise when  encountering such lists as  the Modern Library Board’s that a more valid assessment would also take into serious consideration whether or not  the giant is even awake.  Indeed, one might appropriately ask if the giant was not asleep throughout  the twentieth century, convinced  it was still the end of the nineteenth century when the Supreme Court decision in Plessy V.  Ferguson (1895) made Blacks persona non grata, much like Rip Van Winkle, who slept twenty years thinking it had only been one night. Van Winkle returns to his village at the foot of the Kaatskills to  find it “was larger and more populous.” What a fitting trope for the more  multicultural America the awakened giant must face as he moves towards the third millennium! 

At the risk of sounding repetitious, I must once again offer a resounding “Amen!,”  to Morrison’s proud declaration that African Americans have “always been imaging ourselves. “We are the subjects of our narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience . . .” I find more than tangible evidence of this in such significant collections as Ward’s  Trouble the Water, 250 Years of African American Poetry, Gates’, et.al, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Hill’s, et. al., Call and Response, The Riverside Anthology of African American Literature, Donalson’s Cornerstones, and a host of other celebrations of African American contributions to  American Culture. 

Reflecting on the signification of the very titles of these works, I envision their monumental contribution and conclude that, unlike the end of the first millennium  when Dr. DuBois traveled to the Paris Exhibition of 1900 to display to the world the progress  African Americans had made despite centuries of enslavement, indirectly seeking recognition and acceptance back home in America,    the beginning of the third millennium must offer a different playing field.  Inevitably, I  think  of such  wonderfully signifying(g) poems by Langston Hughes as  “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,”  “Still Here,” “Bound No’th Blues,” and above all “Dream Variation” and know deep within what must be valued.

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance!! Whirl! Whirl!
Til the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

The African American Literature and Culture Society will host   “Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration”at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah,  October 27-29, 2000.   You are cordially invited to attend. 

Itinerancy and the Search for Identity in the Narrative of Zilpha Elaw


A gentleman residing in the city of Annapolis, offered to give me a house and a plot of ground on condition of my residing there; but it was not meant for me to depart from my Master's work, from considerations of worldly interest. I dared not, like Demas, forsake my itinerating  ministry, to love this present world . . .[1]

Nineteenth century Black woman itinerant preacher Zilpha Elaw was not to be trammeled or contained.  Convinced she had been given divine mandate to travel widely and preach the gospel, she rejected outright  efforts to  physically confine her to the private sphere, and her ideological constraint to prescribed roles and ways of thinking and being. Although Elaw honored the private sphere as a space for self-reflection and ritual communion with God,  she converted the  public sphere into an arena in which to  critically engage  her struggle against racial, sexual. and class oppression. Excluded from positions of power and authority within her family, church,  and the larger society, Elaw sought alternative communities in which to share her gifts as an intelligent, charismatic, and powerful Black woman who was divinely chosen to carry out the work of God. Through her public circulation as an itinerant preacher Elaw effectively sought to  find and forge communities of people who shared her vision of a more just world characterized by equality, inclusivity, and spiritual integrity.  Thus,  for Elaw,  physical circulation was not only central to building the  communities she desired,  but it also played an integral role in her (personal) identity development as a spiritual leader.

Although a member of a Methodist Episcopal Society,  Elaw was never granted a license to preach.  Relying on the prompting of her inner voice to guide her in her evangelistic pursuits she began  preaching in Philadelphia in 1827 and worked her way throughout New York state. In 1828, she made a daring trip to the slave  states, preaching in cities such as Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland, Washington. D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia.  She  visited the southern states again 1839, and preached in the northeastern and middle Atlantic states. In 1840, Elaw crossed the Atlantic to proselytize in London and central England.

A  gradual process that takes place within the context of her many travels, Elaw’s development of identity is best understood within the concept “migrational subjectivity” outlines by Carole Boyce Davies in Black Women. Writing and Identity.  Rejecting the notion that Black women's writing and experience can be reduced to any one  particular geographical location, Davies asserts that Black female subjectivity is renegotiated as movement taking place within the contexts of these various sites.[2]

This process of re negotiation captures the dynamics of Elaw's subjectivity. As she travels throughout the United States and England to minister to her spiritual family, she frequently encounters people and circumstances that seek to disrupt the personal identity she has constructed,  forcing her to re-evaluate her assumptions about who she is.

Elaw’s identity transforming experiences are most visible when, in traveling to the South, she traverses the Mason-Dixon line and encounters a trans-cultural crossing. Though she assumes she is blessed with providential guidance and protection, she comes face to face with  forcefully reminders of the multiple significations an independent Black female body invoked  in the South. She is immediately viewed as a  a threat and curiosity.  She is not expected to possess a voice, much less a soul or a will of her own. The tension between her subjectivity and the object status people project onto her is evident in unfolding internal battle of wills that she has with Satan while addressing a Black congregation:

I had no sooner sat down, than Satan suggested to me with such force, that the slave holders would speedily capture me, as filled me with fear and terror. I was then in a small town in one of the slave states; and the news of a coloured female preaching to the slaves had already been spread widely throughout the neighborhood; the novelty of the thing had produced an immense excitement and the people were collecting from every quarter, to gaze at the unexampled prodigy of a coloured female preacher...Being very much alarmed, I removed from my seat to a retired part of the room...(Elaw 91)

As trope, Satan must be read as the resurgence of Elaw's own fear which she  temporarily suppress to summon the courage to address her enslaved brothers and sisters.  Within this hostile and dangerous  context, she is assailed by her fears and forced to come to terms with her identity as a Black woman in such an environment. To successfully transcend and master her fears she must  re negotiate her identity and  posit an alternative, empowered signification of Black womanhood.

Rallying her strength against Satan, against her own self-doubts and fears, Elaw aligns herself with the power associated with Christ. More accurately, she figuratively becomes a ‘Christ’, reenacting the New Testament scene in which Jesus rebukes the defiant disciple, Peter.  Elaw boldly writes: "I inquired within myself, 'from whence cometh all this fear?' My faith then rallied and my confidence in the Lord returned, and I said, ‘get thee behind me Satan, for my Jesus hath made me free" (Elaw 91).[3] 

With this image of herself, Elaw disrupts any notion that, as Black woman, she must be read as an impotent, dispossessed, producer of bodies for the slave economy (as a breeder).  She  debunks these degraded signifiers and empowers herself with an identify that makes her a powerful spiritual leader and heir to a divine heritage.  She emerges as a woman with confidence and the ability to appeal not only to Black slaves, but also to white slave holders as well.

In daring returns to the slave states, Elaw  is reminiscent of  Harriet Tubman, who repeatedly risked her life to rescue her fellow bonds persons.  However, whereas Tubman’s mission was physical,  Elaw’s was spiritual.  In the end, Elaw was instrumental in reaffirming the humanity of African Americans by asserting the existence and value of their souls.

1.  Zilpha  Elaw, Memoirs of Life, Religious Experience Ministerial Travels and Labours of Mrs.  Zilpha Elaw, An American Female of Color; Together with Some Accounts of the Great Religious Revivals in America [Written by Herself] London 1841Reprinted in Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, ed.  William Andrews (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1986), 99.  Hereafter to be cited in text.

2.  Carole Boyce Davies. Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migration of the Subject (London: Rouledge, 1994),  4.

3.  See Matthew 16: 21


Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones Marks 40th Year

In August 1959 when Paule Marshall’s first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, was published, its publication year alone might have signaled its consignment to the book heap of many other first novels.  Instead, in 1999, readers and scholars are celebrating the 40th anniversary of  the novel Marshall has dubbed “the novel of my youth.”

In comparison to the current environment of anticipation, welcome, and readership for black women’s fiction, 1959 was an inauspicious year.  This date places Brown Girl outside three watershed periods in Black American literary history.  It appears well after the productivity of the Harlem Renaissance and after the vogue of naturalistic fiction of the 1940s. It is on the cusp of  but not a precursor to the protest fiction and poetry of the 1960s Black Arts Movement.  Even if  Marshall’s age and novelistic maturity had placed her in one of these periods, her distinctive work tells us that she would not have that been an apostle of literary trends. She would not have followed Richard Wright’s lead in protest fiction as she did not follow Baldwin, who was her contemporary, and did not follow the militancy of the 1960s, as proven by her second novel, The Chosen Place, the Timeless People(1969).

When Wright died in 1960, Nick Aaron Ford proclaimed in Phylon that Baldwin was “easily the most significant and the most distinguished contemporary Negro writer.”  Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1964) inaugurated what Mary Helen Washington has termed an “era of popularity” for Black writers, but Ms. Marshall, like most Black women writers, was not part of that popularity. Brown Girl was published before the popularity of   feminism, feminist literary theory, black feminist criticism or ‘womanist’ thought, prevalent ideologies that have increased audiences for women’s writing and helped position those writings in the forefront of literary consciousness.  As important,  Brown Girl  appeared before the emergence of scholarship committed to the resurrection of lost, dismissed, or forgotten work of  black women writers.

Brown Girl, a mainstay in numerous types of college classes,  continues to engage general readers. Its ethnic specificity, never a limiting factor, has increased its  audience appeal during a period of heightened interest in ethnic experiences in the United States.   Its vision of a troubled family, rendered honestly and with an intimacy of knowing, has a striking resonance in a culture where the traditional family is endangered.    The intimacy of a family’s conflicted existence in a brownstone is balanced against the family’s entry into the world of labor, vice, charlatans, and cheaters where, as Baby Suggs in Beloved says, “yonder they do not love you.”  Selina’s (the young heroine) movement from innocence to knowledge, set against the larger history of her community, connects the individual to the group in an illustration that emphasizes the anchoring power of the group even when the individual is in rebellion against it.   Brown Girl is thus a story at once personal and public. 

Brown Girl has weathered 50 years primarily because of what its initial reviewers recognized. Collectively, they singled out the the timelessness of the bildungsroman, attentive characterization, the Barbadian community, the evocation of locale,  and the depiction of conflict between two races and cultures as qualities that made this a very successful first novel. Marshall was lauded for her craft and   the “important latent talent which augur[ed] well for the future of the author” (Phylon).

This prognostication has proven to be well founded.  The critical reception of Praisesong for the Widow (1983) and Daughters (1990),  novels of Marshall’s mature years, suggests that they, too, are destined to be alive, read, and taught for 50 years.

If one counts its printing history in the United States and London, Brown Girl has not been out of print for long periods of time, although it was not available for purchase merely by browsing a bookstore shelf until the 1980s.     When the first Feminist Press paperback edition in 1981 it capitalized on the growing interest in black women’s writing. Brown Girl  has sold 119,000 copies to date and remains the Press’s  best selling novel.

In 1959, a hardback copy of Brown Girl was priced at $3.95.  A “like new,” first edition hard copy, signed by the author, and purportedly available from a bookseller sells for $937.50.  Indeed, Brown Girl has weathered well its first fifty years of existence.


New from AALCS Members

Dr.  Mary Kemp Davis, Associate Professor of  English at Florida A & M University, and founding member of the AALCS, has been lauded for Nat Turner Before the Bar of Judgment (Louisiana State University Press), her critical study of six novels that depict the nineteenth century rebel and leader Nat Turner, who led the historic insurrection in Southhampton County, Virginia, in 1831.  Under Turner leadership, 60 to 80 blacks took part in this insurrection during which 57 whites, including women and children, were killed..  Turner was later caught and executed. 

Introducing . . .

G.  Winton James, poet  whose Lyric: Poems Along a Broken Road was published by Other Countries, the New York-based gay Black artists collective whose authors have included Melvin Dixon and Essex Hemphill.  Identified as “one of the few full-length collections of poetry from an African American gay male in nearly a decade,” Lyrics, according to one critic, “is a moment in Black literary history that promises to endure.”  “. . .it unveils and celebrates the wonderful in the everyday.”

Colson Whitehead, novelist, has been showered with accolades written in the superlative “brilliant,” “extraordinary,” “ingenious,” “utterly original”–all in reference to his first novel, The Intuitionist (Anchor Books/Doubleday) In his Time magazine review, , Walter Kirn called it “the freshest racial allegory since Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” In his New York Time Book Review essay, Gary Krist describes The Intuitionist as“an ambitious, wide-ranging exploration of racial struggle and the dynamics os social progress.”

Most interesting are two books that focus on travel narrative/documentary.  Whereas       Is a compilation of travel narrataives from   Equiano’s Interesting Narrtative of the Life to   Randall Kenan’s Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty First Century records his own travels and personal  from New England (where he interviewed Dorothy , at that time the only surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance) to the western frontier.  He endes up in North Carolina, telling his own family story.


Book List

Non Fiction

Ball, Edward.  Slaves In The Family.  Ballantine Books: New York, 1998.

Barrett, Paul M.  The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America.  A Dutton Book: New York, 1999.

Davis Ossie, and Ruby Dee.  With Ossie & Ruby: In This Life Together.  William Morrow & Company: New York, 1998.

Graham, Lawrence Otis.  Our Kind of People.  HarperCollins: New York, 1999.

Johnson, Charles, and Patricia Smith.  Africans in America.  Harcourt, Brace & Company: New York, 1998. 

Jones, Star.  You Have to Stand for Something, or You’ll Fall for Anything.  Bantam Books: New York, 1998.

Lewis, John.  Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.  Simon & Schuster: New York, 1998.

McCray, Carrie Allen.  Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1998.

Remnick, David.  King of The World.  Random House: New York, 1998.

Russell, Katheryn K.  The Color of Crime.  New York University Press: New York, 1998.

Smith, Felipe.  American Body Politics: Race, Gender, and The Black Literary Renaissance.  University of Georgia Press: Athens, 1998.

Vanzant, Iyanla.  One Day My Soul Just Opened.  A Fireside Book: New York, 1998. 

White, Deborah Gray.  Too Heavy A Load: Black Women In Defense of Themselves 1894-1994.

W.W Norton & Company: New York, 1998.

Winfrey, Oprah.  Journey To Beloved.  Hyperion: New York, 1998.



Butler, Octavia E.  Parable of The Talents.  Seven Stories Press: New York, 1998.

Dickey, Eric Jerome.  Milk In My Coffee.  A Dutton Book: New York, 1998.

Griffith, Lois.  Among Others.  Crown Publishers: New York, 1998.

Jackson, Brian Keith.  Walking Through Mirrors.  Pocket Books: New York, 1998.

Johnson, Guy.  Standing at The Scratch Line.  Random House: New York, 1998.

Johnson-Coleman, Lorraine.  Just Plain Folks.  Little, Brown & Company: Boston, 1998.

Lamar, Jake.  Close To The Bone.  Crown Publishers: New York, 1998. 

Lawson Roby, Kimberla.  Here and Now.  Kensington Books: New York, 1999.

Perry, Alesia Phyllis.  Stigmata.  Hyperion: New York, 1998.

Porter, Connie.  Imani All Mine.  Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1999.

Taylor, Mel.  The Mitt Man.  William Morrow & Company: New York, 1999.

Walker, Alice.  By The Light Of My Father’s Smile.  Random House: New York, 1998.

Whitehead, Colson.  The Intuitionist.  Anchor Books: New York, 1999.



Barboza, Steven.  Ed.  The African American Book of Values.  Doubleday: New York, 1998.

Cumber Dance, Daryl.  Ed.  Honey, Hush! An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor.  W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1998.



Clinton, Catherine.  I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry.  Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1998.