Books: Anthologies Pt. 4

I have a deep love and appreciation for multicultural literature. I’ve had the privilege of taking entire classes that focus on Latino and African American/Caribbean Literature. These were always my favorite classes because the experiences of these writers are much deeper than those of other writers I have encountered. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t bore you with my infatuation. Instead, let me introduce you (or re-introduce you if these aren’t new to you) to The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and Best African American Fiction 2009.

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature begins with musical and oral traditions. Music is a central part of the Black experience–regardless of country of origin–and its place at the beginning of this anthology hints to its importance.

The Vernacular Tradition covers Spirituals, Gospel; Secular Rhymes and Songs, Ballads, Work Songs, and Songs of Social Change; The Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop, Sermons and Prayers, and Folktales. Some of the musicians include Duke Ellington, Andy Razaf, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.), and Nas. Orators include James Weldon Johnson, C.L. Franklin, Howard Thurman, G.I. Townsel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, James Alexander Forbes, Jr., and Bert Williams.

The anthology continues from here in a chronological fashion–as with many of the other anthologies we’ve been over so far:
The Literature of Slavery and Freedom 1746-1865
Phillis Wheatley, George Moses Horton, Sojourner Truth, Martin R. Delany, Harriet Jacobs, Victor Séjour, James M. Whitfield, Frances E.W. Harper, Harriet E. Wilson
Literature of the Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance, 1865-1919
Booker T. Washington, Anna Julia Cooper, Pauline E. Hopkins, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson, William Stanley Braithwaite
Harlem Renaissance, 1919-1940
Angelina Weld Grimké, Anne Spencer, Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Rudolph Fisher, Langston Hughes, Helene Johnson
Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, 1940-1960
Melvin B. Tolson, Dorothy West, Richard Wright, Robert Hayden, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry
The Black Arts Era, 1960-1975
Hoyt Fuller, Malcom X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan, Lucille Clifton, Ishmael Reed, Toni Cade Bambara, Nikki Giovanni
Literature Since 1975
Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Clarence Major, Sherley Anne Williams, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange (have you seen For Colored Girls?), Gloria Naylor (The Women of Brewster Place is also a great movie), Rita Dove, Essex Hemphill, Edwidge Danticat (love her! but we’ll get into that in a future post)

Following these main sections of literature are:
Timeline: African American Literature in Context
Selected Bibliographies
Audio Companion Notes by Robert G. O’Meally (Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English, Columbia University)

Yes, that says “audio companion notes”. This 2nd edition of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature does come with a 2-disc audio companion (that I never actually opened…shhh, don’t tell anyone). The first disc includes music by Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Mahalia Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, Ma Rainey, Big Maybelle, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and John Coltrane among other greats; and the second disc includes spoken words by Booker T. Washington,W.E.B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, just to name a few.

I definitely feel the need to crack that seal now and give the audio companions a listen. Reading them is one thing, but I know from past experience with other audio companions that listening to them brings an entirely new dimension to the works included.


Best African American Fiction 2009 is a much smaller anthology, only about 315 pages compared to 2700+ pages of the Norton anthology we just went over, and begins with two introductions–one by the series editor, Gerald Early, and one by guest editor E. Lynn Harris. There are three main sections–Stories includes eight stories by eight different authors, Novel Excerpts includes four different authors, and Young Adult Fiction includes four different authors as well. Because this anthology is small, I can list the entire Contents. Yay!

Following the two introductions the contents are listed as:

Pita Delicious by ZZ Packer
Albino Crow by Chris Abani
Orb Weaver by Emily Raboteau
The Saving Work by Tiphanie Yanique
Dance for Me by Amina Gautier
Cell One by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In the Blink of God’s Eye by Edward P. Jones
This Kind of Red by Helen Elaine Lee

Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany
The Great Negro Plot by Mat Johnson
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas

Excerpt from Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
Excerpt from Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers
Excerpt from Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Excerpt from Up for It: A Tale of the Underground by L.F. Haines

The anthology ends with Permissions and Credits and a section about the editors.

The authors included in this anthology were all new to me when I picked it up, with the exception of Junot Diaz. I haven’t purchased any other books in this series, but I would. Small anthologies such as this one are particularly enjoyable for me because I get to experience a variety of authors in a way that is not as overwhelming as the larger anthologies. I fully intend to expand my collection of small anthologies…as soon as I am able to make some space on my existing bookshelves.

I encourage you to explore some African American literature in whatever capacity you have access to. It will definitely open your eyes to some great literature if you haven’t encountered it before.

In my next post we’ll get into some Caribbean and Latino literature, so look out for that.

And as always,
Happy Reading!


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