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Literature Spotlight

Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897)

Harriet Jacobs was an American abolitionist and autobiographer who crafted her own experiences into an eloquent and uncompromising slave narrative. Born into slavery, Jacobs still was taught to read at an early age. She self-published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1861. Jacobs’ narrative does not shrink from discussing the sexual abuse of slaves or the anguish felt by slave mothers who faced the loss of their children.   
Source: Enyclopedia Britannica

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an African American writer, lecturer, and political activist, who promoted abolition, civil rights, women's rights, and temperance. She helped found or held high office in several national progressive organizations. She is best remembered today for her poetry and fiction, which preached moral uplift and counseled the oppressed how to free themselves from their demoralized condition. 
Source: Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography  

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

One of the most influential intellectuals of the 19th century, Washington founded a black school in Alabama called Tuskegee Institute. In 1901, he founded the National Negro Business League (NNBL), which aimed to promote the development of African Americans financially and commercially. In 1966, the organization was renamed to the National Business League. He also wrote one of the most widely read autobiographies, Up from Slavery (1901).
Source: MSN 

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963)

W.E.B. Du Bois, an American educator, editor, and writer, was the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1909. His best-known book is The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
Source: MSN 2/17/18

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

Novelist and writer Zora Neale Hurston became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, due to her novels such as Their Eyes Were Watching God. She was also an outstanding folklorist and anthropologist who recorded cultural history, as illustrated by her Mules and Men. She inspired generations of proud black Southern artists. 
Source: Biography  

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

In the 1920s, Hughes was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, which focused on African American writers, poets, musicians, and artists. Hughes was a playwright, poet, and novelist who also wrote columns for the Chicago Defender in which he addressed racial issues. His book based on black themes and heritage, The Weary Blues (1926), earned him the first prize in a literary competition by Opportunity magazine. He worked for several American newspapers during the Spanish Civil War as a war correspondent. Hughes received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935. 
Source: MSN  

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Wright was an African American author and poet who published his first short story at the age of 16. Later, he found employment with the Federal Writers' Project and received critical acclaim for Uncle Tom's Children, a collection of four stories. He is well-known for his 1940 bestseller Native Son and his 1945 autobiography Black Boy, which gained prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. His work explored the violence faced by black people in the United States.  
Source: Biography 

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

Gwendolyn Brooks’ book of poetry Annie Allen (1949) won the Pulitzer Prize and was just one of more than 20 books of poetry she wrote over a 50-year period, including Riot, The Bean Eaters, and In the Mecca. Born in Chicago, Brooks was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois in 1968 and received numerous other awards, including fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation.   
Source: Pen and the Pad by Peggy Epstein 2017

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

James Baldwin was an African American novelist, essayist, and playwright. His works, including Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), explore themes of oppression and violence in the lives of American blacks. Some of his other novels include Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), and Just Above My Head (1979). His essays are collected in Notes of A Native Son (1955).    
Source: MSN 

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Author of seven autobiographies and several essays that focus on racism, identity, family, and travel, this poet made literary history with her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. Throughout her career, she received several honors, including three NAACP Image Awards. 
Source: MSN 2/17/18

Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

Toni Morrison was a Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, exquisite language, and richly detailed African American characters who are central to their narratives. Among her best-known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Jazz. Morrison also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. 
Source: Biography 

John Edgar Wideman (1941- )

This American writer is regarded for his intricate literary style in novels about the experiences of African American men in contemporary urban America. In Brothers and Keepers (1984), his first nonfiction book, he contemplated the role of the black intellectual by studying his relationship with his brother, who was serving a life sentence in prison. He was the first person to win the PEN/Fraulkner Award for Fiction twice. 
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Nikki Giovanni (1943- )

The author of 17 books of poetry, Nikki Giovanni’s work often focuses on the quest for equality, beginning with Black Feeling, Black Talk, published in 1968. She has created spoken word recordings of many of her works, including Truth Is On Its Way, which features a background of gospel music. Giovanni, who was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Living Legends,” is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. 
Source: Poetry Foundation 1/1/2020

Tracy K. Smith (1972- )

Tracy K. Smith is the author of four books of poetry: The Body’s Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essence Literary Award; Life on Mars (2011), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Wade in the Water (2018). In 2014, she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. poet laureate.  
Source: Poetry Foundation 

Gwendolyn Brooks photo credit: Olga Popova / | James Baldwin photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Toni Morrison photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. | Nikki Giovanni photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.