Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

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9780313305016: Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

During the last two decades, African American writers have emerged as a distinct and dominant force in world literature. This force has been gathering momentum since the 1950s, when James Baldwin published some of his most compelling works and Ralph Ellison stunned the literary establishment with his dazzling Invisible Man (1952). Empowered by the Civil Rights Movement and revitalized by the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, this force became more potent and pervasive. The publication of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye in 1970 was a major event in the literary history of the United States. With a voice as original as America itself, she began to conquer the English language and redefine the international literary landscape. Along with Morrison, scores of African American writers have mapped bold new territories and firmly entrenched themselves in the forefront of contemporary American literature. This reference book is a guide to the lives, works, and achievements of 79 contemporary African American novelists.

Through alphabetically arranged entries written by expert contributors, this volume offers lively, concise, and current information about these writers. Each entry begins with a biographical sketch of the author, provides a judicious critical assessment of the author's major works and themes, gives a representative sample of the critical responses the author's novels have elicited, and concludes with a selected bibliography that lists the author's publications as well as useful secondary material. Included are major figures, such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. There are also entries for many noteworthy but lesser known figures, such as Tina McElroy Ansa, Bebe Moore Campbell, Randall Kenan, Reginald McKnight, Marita Golden, and Arthur Flowers. Some are popular writers with mass appeal, such as Terri McMillan and Frank Yerby; others, such as Octavia E. Butler, are known for their science fiction. Still others are distinguished poets or playwrights who have also published one or more significant novels. Of the 79 novelists profiled, 41 are women, and roughly a dozen have identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Thus the volume demonstrates the enormous diversity of these writers and the breadth of their contribution to world literature.

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About the Author:

EMMANUEL S. NELSON is Professor of English at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He is the author of more than 30 articles on various international literatures in English, and his books include Reworlding: The Literature of the Indian Diaspora (1992), Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (1993), and Writers of the Indian Diaspora: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (1993), all available from Greenwood Press.

From Booklist:

The past 20-odd years have seen the emergence of a significant body of African American fiction. Providing reliable, thorough, and up-to-date biographical, critical, and bibliographic information about that literature for advanced scholars, undergraduates, and general readers is the stated goal of this work.

The 79 profiled writers include major novelists, such as Toni Morrison and John Edgar Wideman, as well as such lesser-known writers as Steven Corbin and Dawn Turner Trice. The word contemporary in the title is somewhat elastic. Although most of the writers featured have written in the past thirty years, several had their most prolific period in the 1940s and 1950s. And although each author has written at least one novel, some of them are better known for their poetry, plays, or nonfiction. Forty-one of the writers are women.

Entries range from 4 to 19 pages, with most encompassing 5 pages. Each author's profile begins with a short biography. A discussion of the writer's major works and themes follows, with an overview of the critical reception in both popular and scholarly journals. Each entry concludes with a bibliography that lists the works of the profiled author and secondary sources for further investigation. The bibliographies are not completely up-to-date. Although novels published as recently as 1998 are included in several entries, others, such as Bebe Moore Campbell's Singing in the Comeback Choir and Gloria Naylor's Men of Brewster Place, are not, perhaps because they were published too late in the year. The bibliography for Alice Walker ends unaccountably in 1992.

The stated purpose of this book is to be a "scholarly guide to the lives, works, and achievements" of the writers profiled. Some of the entries accomplish this, with thorough, perceptive analysis, although others are cursory, providing little insight into the subject covered. The benefit of a compendium such as this is that a number of authors are covered in one handy volume, and some may be hard to find elsewhere. For more prominent writers, both general readers and scholarly researchers will be better served by other resources, such as Gale's Contemporary Authors.

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