May I Introduce my International Readers to Gwendolyn Brooks and Black Americana

You don’t have to be black or be hyper-political to appreciate great Black American Literature. I don’t write the term African-American because it doesn’t sound correct when I discuss that genre of literature which I have always known as Black American Literature. Black has it’s own connotation, its own separate meaning in American. It is a word of rising Angst with it’s own special but somehow universal voice. It’s not my voice, but it’s how I can listen.

Steps to the River

To let you know, I don’t read black poets because I want to show how hip I am to blackness. I’m not holding a torch for Black America, that’s condescending. I could care less about politics. Politics are for the shrill and weak-minded.

I appreciate Black Americana, because it’s just good writing: an important, lyrical part of American Literature, without which, you can’t begin to understand the panoply of American poetry or literature.

Nothing stands on it’s own, it’s all interwoven into the genre we call ‘Americana’.

I was in school. In classes that were mostly black and a few white. I was one of the last people in class anyone would have been expected to read or understand this particular form of expression. I had no awareness of blackness. I had not paid attention to black issues. But bored, seated in the back of the class, I picked the book “To be a Slave” by Julius Lester, off the shelf.

I began to wonder about Black American Literature, I began to read Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance. I also read Frederick Douglass… I had almost forgotten that I had read so many of these works. Not because it was assigned, but because I found it all to be worth reading.

Note that most of the works are understated, even if powerful in expression. They were meant to be directed to a universal audience, a universal expression of self. Sometimes, we have to talk to more than each other in order to make ourselves truly understood.

Please listen to the poems, read the works and see it from your own perspective.

Countee Cullen

  • Incident” (read by Ayodele Heath)

Frederick Douglass

  • “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”

Langston Hughes

Julius Lester

  • “To be a Slave”
  • “Black Folktales”

Gwendolyn Brooks

  • The Bean Eaters.” (Read by Teyuna T. Darris)
  • “We Real Cool.”
  • “A Boy Died in my Alley.”
  • “A Sunset of the City.”

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