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Great African American Authors

From pre-Revolutionary War poetry and sermons, to ante-Civil War slave narratives, to Jim Crow Era segregation and discrimination issues, to Black rights in the Civil Rights period, to the Black Artists movement and to the Black New Wave of the 21st Century, this breakthrough eight part series, Great African American Authors, tells the amazing story of the evolution of the African American literary tradition in the United States.
  • Title ID 87-AAA
  • English, American Literature, American History, Social Studies, Minority Achievement
  • 8 Programs
  • 13 Supplemental Files
  • 10th Grade through Post Secondary
  • Published by Ambrose Video Publishing Inc./Centre Communications
Included Programs
Supplemental Files

Included Programs

1761 - 1901Running time is 28 minutes

Born out of slavery and the African oral tradition, African American Authors gave voice to the struggles of Blacks in the early days of this nation. Program one examines the beginning of African American Literature through the authors Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Booker T. Washington.

Chapter List
1761 - Jupiter Hammon, America's First Published Black Writer
The preacher and poet, Jupiter Hammon, a slave whose poetry helped to launch the African American literary tradition, wrote 'An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries', 'An Address to Phillis Wheatley', and 'An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York'.
1773 - Phillis Wheatley Completes Her Poems on Various Subjects
Phillis Wheatley, America's first Black Woman Poet, wrote Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, which included the poem, 'On Being Brought From Africa to America,' which established her as a great colonial poet.
1855 - Frederick Douglass Publishes My Bondage and My Freedom
Frederick Douglass was a black author whose anti slavery book, My Bondage and My Freedom, was a call for abolition.
1899 - Paul Laurence Dunbar's 'Sympathy'
Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, wrote Oak and Ivory and Sympathy, and was married to the famous poet Alice Ruth Moore.
1901 - Booker T. Washington's Autobiography, Up From Slavery
Booker T. Washington, who founded Tuskegee Institute and wrote Up From Slavery, would promote using education and labor skills to further social moderation, while W.E.B. Dubois would fight for immediate social and political equality.

1902 - 1924Running time is 28 minutes

At the the turn of the 20th century Blacks migrated from the rural south to the industrialized north. Program two focuses on struggle by Blacks to find a place and an identity as the onset of the 20th Century gave rise to a new cadre of African American Authors, embodied in the great literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, which came of age in the Roaring Twenties, through the authors W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Alain LeRoy Locke, Langston Hughes and Alice Dunbar Nelson.

Chapter List
1903 - W.E.B. Du Bois Pens The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. Du Bois founded the NAACP to fight Jim Crow laws and segregation and to promote Civil Rights, while writing many books, including The Souls of Black Folk, Dusk of Dawn, Dark Princess, Black Reconstruction in America, and founding the magazine, The Crisis.
1912 - James Weldon Johnson Writes About Black Identity
Civil rights activist and educator James Weldon Johnson wrote , The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man, God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse in 1927, Black Manhattan and Negro Americans, What Now?.
1919 - Alain LeRoy Locke, Architect of the Harlem Renaissance
Alain LeRoy Locke started the New Negro Movement, later called the Harlem Renaissance, a movement to transform Black culture and Black identity, and wrote the ground breaking book, The New Negro: An Interpretation, which was taken from essays written for the magazine, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life and Survey Graphic.
1921 - 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' by Langston Hughes
Poet and civil rights activist Langston Hughes, known as the 'voice of the Harlem Renaissance', wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers, I, Too Sing America, and The Big Sea.
1924 - Alice Dunbar Nelson, Interpreter of Black Culture
Alice Dunbar Nelson was writer, known as an interpreter of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote Violets and Other Tales, The Colored United States, and a diary published in 1984 with the title: Give Us Each Day: The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

1925 - 1937Running time is 29 minutes

The Harlem Renaissance ended as America entered the Great Depression. Program three depicts how new black authors, such as Countee Cullen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Sterling A. Brown, Arna Bontemps and Zora Neale Hurston, came to the forefront to contribute to the ever-growing body of African American Literature.

Chapter List
1925 - Countee Cullen Pens 'Heritage'
Poet Countee Cullen of the Harlem Renaissance wrote Color, Yet Do I Marvel, Heritage and One Way to Heaven.
1928 - Jessie Redmon Fauset Publishes Plum Bun
Jessie Redmon Fauset, known as the midwife of the Harlem Renaissance, worked at the magazine The Crisis and wrote There is Confusion and Plum Bun.
1932 - Sterling A. Brown, Master of Dialect
Harlem Renaissance poet Sterling A. Brown used the rhythms and lyricism of Black music- blues, jazz and worksongs in his poetry including Southern Road and his signature poem Strong Men.
1936 - Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder
Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps wrote Black thunder and his signature poem A Black Man Talks of Reaping.
1937 - Zora Neale Hurston Completes Their Eyes Were Watching God
Part of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston worked for the magazine Fire!! And wrote such penetrating books as Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

1938 - 1953Running time is 29 minutes

As the Great Depression ended, new African American literary voices took up the civil rights issues facing Black families from the industrialized north to the rural south. Program four looks at how Black authors Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, challenged the racial inequalities of mainstream America and created the idea of 'Black is beautiful'.

Chapter List
1940 - Richard Wright, Father of Black Protest Fiction
The father of protest literature, Black author Richard Wright wrote Native Son and Black Boy to protest the treatment of Blacks during the Jim Crow Era.
1950 - Gwendolyn Brooks, First Black Pulitzer Prize Recipient
Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning author who inspired the idea of 'Black is beautiful', wrote Annie Allen and Maud Martha.
1953 - Ralph Ellison Wins National Book Award
Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award with his masterpiece novel, Invisible Man.
1953 - James Baldwin Writes Go Tell It on the Mountain
Civil Rights activist James Baldwin was a gay author who write Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time.

1954 - 1967Running time is 28 minutes

With the Civil Rights Movement in full swing, racial tensions escalate in America. In response African American writers Chester Himes, Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, give rise to a new literary expression - Black Power. Program five looks at the great African American playwrights as well as other black authors during the second great Black literary movement - the Black Arts Movement - against the backdrop of growing racial tension in 1960s America.

Chapter List
1957 - Chester Himes, First Black Crime Fiction Writer
Chester Himes wrote crime fiction and protest fiction and published If He Hollers Let Him Go as well as his hugely popular Harlem detective novels.
1959 - Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is Produced
Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier, was a woman author and American playwright who opened the door for other Black playwrights on Broadway.
1965 - The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X with author Alex Haley.
1965 - Amiri Baraka, Father of the Black Arts Movement
Poet and Civil Rights Movement activist Amiri Baraka, the father of the Black Arts Movement when he founded the Black Repertory Arts Theater in Harlem wrote Blues People (Negro Music in White America).
1967 - Nikki Giovanni, "Princess of Black Poetry"
Poet Nikki Giovanni, the matriarch of the Black Arts Movement, wrote Black Feeling, Black Talk; Black Judgment; Re: Creation; and Love Poems.

1968 - 1982Running time is 29 minutes

In the years following the Civil Rights Movement, African American literature expanded and diversified into a wide array of styles and genres, but still took on the growing cultural and economic divide between Whites and Blacks. Program six highlights the Black Arts Movement through the wide array of genres and styles that emerged from feminist poets through the works of Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Childress, Ed Bullins, Alex Hale and, Gloria Naylor.

Chapter List
1969 - Maya Angelou Writes Her Autobiography
Poet and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie.
1972 - Toni Cade Bambara Publishes Gorilla, My Love
Toni Cade Bambera was active in the Black Arts Movement and wrote Gorilla, My Love and The Salt Eaters,
1973 - Alice Childress, A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich
Playwright Alice Childress wrote A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich, Trouble in Mind and Florence.
1975 - Ed Bullins Premieres The Taking of Miss Janie
Active in the Black Arts Movement, playwright Ed Bullins wrote The Taking of Miss Jane, Goin' A Buffalo and In the Wine Time.
1976 - Alex Haley's Groundbreaking Roots
Alex Haley co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X and wrote Roots and Alex Haley's Queen.
1982 - Gloria Naylor Celebrates the Black Woman
Gloria Naylor wrote The Women of Brewster Place, Linden Hills, Mama Day, Bailey's Cafe, The Men of Brewster Place and 1996.

1982 - 1993Running time is 28 minutes

In the decades of the 80s and 90s, Black authors found new exciting ways to interpret the Black experience in America. Through the work of Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, August Wilson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Walter Mosley and Toni Morrison, Program seven examines the new voices of talented young Black authors, poets and playwrights of the Post Black Arts Movement in what has been called the Golden Age of African American literature.

Chapter List
1982 - Alice Walker Writes The Color Purple
Alice Walker worked for Ms. Magazine, The Color Purple, The Cushion in the Road and The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers.
1987 - Lucille Clifton's Poetry Celebrates the Female Body
Poet Lucille Clifton wrote about Black women's bodies with her signature poem Homage to My Hips.
1987 - August Wilson Wins Pulitzer for Fences
American and Black playwright August Wilson opened with Robb Penny the Black Horizon Theater in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where he wrote and presented his Pulitzer and Tony Award winning Pittsburgh Cycle, or Ten Plays Cycle, including Fences.
1988 - Yusef Komunyakaa Pens 'Facing It'
Poet Yusef Komunyakaa wrote Dien Cai Dau, Facing It and Neon Vernacular, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
1990 - Walter Mosley Introduces Easy Rawlins
Crime fiction writer Walter Mosley introduced his character Easy Rawlins in his hit detective novel, Devil in a Blue Dress.
1993 - Toni Morrison Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature
Post Black Arts Movement author Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature for her amazing novels, including Song of Solomon and Beloved, which introduced the character of Sethe.

1993 - PresentRunning time is 28 minutes

As the new millennium opened, Black poets, playwrights and novelists brought a unique perspective into the 21st Century. Program eight examines the trailblazers of the Black New Wave of literature - Ernest J. Gaines, Rita Dove, Cornelius Eady, Suzan-Lori Parks, Natasha Tretheway, Olympia Vernon, Ayana Mathis, Tayari Jones and Tony Medina - finding fresh ways to communicate the Black experience in America.

Chapter List
1993 - Ernest J. Gaines Completes A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest J. Gaines wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying, told through the eyes of the main character Grant Wiggins.
1993 - Rita Dove is Appointed Poet Laureate of the United States
U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, a leader of the Black Arts Movement, wrote Parsley, Museum, Thomas and Beulah, American Smooth and Heart to Heart.
2001 - Cornelius Eady Writes Brutal Imagination
Founder of the Cave Canem Foundation, poet Cornelius Eady wrote Victims of the Last Dance Craze, The Gathering of My Name, and Hardheaded Weather.
2002 - Suzan-Lori Parks Wins Pulitzer for Topdog/Underdog
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks wrote Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, Topdog/Underdog and 365 Plays/365 Days.
2012 - Natasha Trethewey and the New Wave
Natasha Tretheway is the signature writer of the Black New Wave of writing which includes such notable authors as Olympia Vernon, who wrote the coming of age novels - Eden, Logic and A Killing in This Town; Ayana Mathis, who wrote The Twelve Tribes of Hattie; Tayani Jones, who wrote the Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling and Silver Sparrow; and Tony Medina whose collection of poems is titled An Onion of Wars.

Supplemental Files

Great African American Authors - Educator's Guide
Great African American Authors - Reading List
Great African American Authors - Timeline
Great African American Authors - Works Cited
MARC Records for AAA
MARC records for the series Great African American Authors
1761 - 1901
1902 - 1924
1925 - 1937
1938 - 1953
1954 - 1967
1968 - 1982
1982 - 1993
1993 - Present


Educator and historian Alphonse Keasley hosts and narrates this eight-part series that traces the history of African American writers in America. The chronologically arranged titles, …. introduce more than ‘40 brilliant black writers,’….The authors and works are placed within the context of broader social, cultural, and historic events, including slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and more. Archival footage, vintage photographs, brief dramatizations, and background music add structure and appeal….Black poets, playwrights, novelists, and nonfiction writers created unparalleled works of literature and changed history.