Favorite Black Authors – History Through a Literary Lense

My interest in writing realistic fiction is due in large part to two wonderful authors, James Baldwin and Dennis Brutus. I met James Baldwin at a poetry workshop of Dennis Brutus, a South African poet and activist, in Philadelphia.The literary works of favorite Black authors provided a lense to see history left out of the public education where I grew up, in the Catskills, New York in the 1960’s. By the time my daughters were in school many of these authors were on their reading lists in both history and writing classes. I’m not sure if this is because of a change in time or a change in place—they attended the New York City public schools in the Bronx. On Martin Luther King Day we would read King’s works at home to mark the day, to remember how much one person can do to influence the world.

At Brutus’ poetry workshop, I was a young hopeful poet in the small crowded room of hopeful poets all working on their poems that evening. Brutus taught not only to be authentic and write what we knew, but also to examine every single word we wrote down. I loved the way his poetry showed love even in situations of extreme injustice. He had written poetry even about prison, where he had lived in a cell beside Nelson Mandela.

After meeting James Baldwin, I read as many of his books as I could find, and especially loved Giovanni’s Room.  I re-read it just prior to finishing my first novel Vector a Modern Love Story. Baldwin led me as a reader, to love all kinds of characters and even understand the motives under terrible acts with tragic consequences.

A modern voice, A. Shahid Stover’s, I first heard from the back of the audience at a Brecht Forum course in New York City. I led a section on science and environmental dangers of our time there, and he gave the discussion on rap and resistance. In his first published collection of essays, Hip Hop Intellectual Resistance, Stover calls for a new look at modern day resistance. He uses examples from rap artists pulled from his own background as an underground emcee in NYC. He launches his questions from a position grounded in faith and supported by footnotes from the great revolutionary writers – from Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Dubois to Sartre, to modern day voices of Noam Chomsky and NAS.

Here are a few of my favorite authors who have inspired me, their works that have influenced me, and links to their author pages that show other works:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • W. E. B. Du Bois, Autobiography of W.E.B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century.

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” ― W.E.B. DuBois

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” — Frederick Douglass

  • James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (autobiography), and Giovanni’s Room (fiction)

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ― James Baldwin

“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.” ― Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” ― Langston Hughes

Who are your favorites? Please leave a comment to share views.

3 responses to “Favorite Black Authors – History Through a Literary Lense”

  1. “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
    (Maya Angelou)

    “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
    (Alice Walker)



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