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FunTimes Magazine

5 Best African American Authors

Nov 14, 2021 01:00PM ● By Anand Subramanian
collage of African American authors James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston

Poets, playwrights, novelists, and intellectuals all contributed to capturing a nation's voice. They've bravely confronted prejudice, abuse, and violence, as well as love, beauty, and music. African American authors have contributed to a rich and diverse corpus of literature throughout America's history. They've contributed novels, short tales, essays, poems, scholarly papers, academic writing, and everything in between. Their contributions to American storytelling have transformed perceptions and sparked fresh debates about race, culture, politics, religion, and sociology. They have amused, enlightened, and informed audiences with the stories they have conveyed as creative authors and documentarians. In many situations, their work has resulted in policy, practice, and cultural norms being altered, not to mention affecting how the Black experience is regarded and understood in America. This article honors the legacy of 5 African American authors who have made an indelible effect on the literary world.

James Baldwin

Even though he spent most of his life overseas to avoid racial discrimination in the United States, James Baldwin remains the ultimate American writer. His books, articles, and poems, most known for his comments on his experience as an out homosexual Black man in white America, established him as a social critic who felt the agony and suffering of Black Americans. Baldwin, who was born in Harlem in 1924, grabbed the attention of fellow writer Richard Wright, who assisted him in obtaining a grant to sustain himself as a writer. At the age of 24, he moved to Paris and went on to compose Go Tell It on the Mountain, a novel unlike anything written at that point. It has become an American classic, speaking with passion and depth about the Black struggle in America. For the remainder of his life, Baldwin would produce novels, poetry, and essays with a refreshingly unusual perspective. During the Civil Rights Movement, he produced three of his most notable essay collections: "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), "Nobody Knows My Name" (1961), and "The Fire Next Time" (1963).

Figure 1 - Portrait of James Baldwin. Source - Google

Alex Haley

Alex Haley's work on African Americans' struggles sparked national interest in genealogy and popularized Black history. Haley, well known for his work on The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the novel Roots, began his literary career as a freelancer and struggled to make ends meet. After weeks of subsisting on tinned sardines, his big break came when Playboy magazine assigned him to interview Miles Davis. The magazine hired Haley to do a series of interviews with renowned African Americans. Haley ultimately met Malcolm X and asked for his permission to write his biography. The Autobiography of Malcolm X quickly became an international best-seller, and Haley rose to literary fame. Haley set out on a new ambitious undertaking, tracing his ancestors' journey from Africa to America as slaves and telling the tale of their rise to freedom. The epic novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family was released in 1976, after a decade of study and travel to West Africa. The book became a national phenomenon and won the Pulitzer Prize before being adapted into a television miniseries that broke television viewership records with 130 million viewers tuning in.

Figure 2 - Portrait of Alex Haley. Source - Google

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is often regarded as the voice of African American women. Morrison, who grew up in an integrated community, was not fully conscious of racial distinctions until she was in her adolescence. She worked hard in her studies and earned her master's degree before heading to Howard University to teach. Morrison began writing in the 1960s when she was hired as an editor at Random House. While she had previously written The Bluest Eye in 1970 and Sula in 1973, The Song of Solomon was the work that launched her literary career. It was the first novel by an African American author to be included in the Book-of-the-Month Club since Richard Wright's Native Son. Beloved, published in 1987, is considered her finest accomplishment, and the book earned multiple accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Figure 3 - Portrait of Toni Morrison. Source - Google

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston moved to New York City in 1925, while the Harlem Renaissance was gaining traction. By the 1930s, Hurston had established herself as the leading Black female writer in the United States. Hurston's most renowned work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was released in 1937, among her more than 50 published novels, short tales, plays, and essays. Hurston did not write openly about Black people in the setting of white America, instead  focusing on African American culture and customs via the beauty of their speech. Despite her early literary brilliance, Hurston's career would suffer later in life. She died destitute and alone as a result of her inability to be published. Years later, Alice Walker's piece "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," published in Ms. Magazine in 1975, helped rekindle interest in Hurston's work. This article, along with her edits of significant works like "I Love Myself When I'm Laughing and Then Again When I'm Looking Mean and Impressive," introduced Hurston to a new generation of readers.

Figure 4 - Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston. Source - Google

Richard Wright

Richard Wright, who was born in Mississippi in 1908, is most known for his novels Native Son and Black Boy, which paralleled his battle with poverty and coming of age experience. Wright's writing was explicitly political, focused on the fight of Blacks in America for equality and economic growth. He was a fierce critic of his literary colleague Zora Neale Hurston. Wright's ambitions to become a writer were realized when he was hired under the Federal Writers Project and won critical acclaim for a collection of short tales titled Uncle Tom's Children. With the release of Native Son in 1940, he became a household name. His novel Black Boy told the tale of his childhood in the South and subsequent relocation to Chicago, where he became a writer and joined the Communist Party.

Figure 5 - Portrait of Richard Wright. Source - Google

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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