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Selection: “And Still I Rise” (poem).
Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28, 2014), known as Maya Angelou, was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Among numerous honors was an invitation to compose and deliver a poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” for the inauguration of U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton in 1993. She elegized Nelson Mandela in the poem “His Day Is Done” (2013), which was commissioned by the U.S. State Department and released in the wake of the South African leader’s death. In 2011 Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ida B. Wells
Selection: Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (long-form pamphlet).
Born into slavery, Ida Bell Wells (July 16, 1862 to March 25, 1931) was an African-American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African-American justice.
Selection: Go Tell It on the Mountain (novel).
James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country. Born in 1924 in New York City, James Baldwin published the 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, going on to garner acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity. Other novels included Giovanni's Room, Another Country and Just Above My Headas well as essay works like Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time. Having lived in France, he died on December 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul de Vence.
Selection: Beloved (novel).
Born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison is 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, Jazz, Love and A Mercy. Morrison has earned a plethora of book-world accolades and honorary degrees, also receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Selection: The Weary Blues (poetry collection).
Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist, and playwright whose African-American themes made him a primary contributor to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He published his first poem in 1921. He attended Columbia University, but left after one year to travel. His poetry was later promoted by Vachel Lindsay, and Hughes published his first book in 1926. He went on to write countless works of poetry, prose and plays, as well as a popular column for the Chicago Defender. He died on May 22, 1967.
Selection: Sister Outsider (book).
Born February 18, 1934, Audre Lorde attended Hunter College and Columbia University and was a librarian for several years before publishing her first volume of poetry, First Cities, in 1968. More successful collections followed, including From a Land Where Other People Live (1973) and The Black Unicorn (1978). Lorde also wrote the memoirs The Cancer Journals (1980) and A Burst of Light (1988). A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. At the time of her death in 1992, Audre Lorde was poet laureate of New York State—an honor bestowed upon her the prior year.
Selection: Black Skin, White Mask (book).
Born in Martinique, Frantz Fanon (1925–61) trained as a psychiatrist in Lyon before taking up a post in colonial Algeria. He had already experienced racism as a volunteer in the Free French Army, in which he saw combat at the end of the Second World War. In Algeria, Fanon came into contact with the Front de Libération Nationale, whose ruthless struggle for independence was met with exceptional violence from the French forces. He identified closely with the liberation movement, and his political sympathies eventually forced him out the country, whereupon he became a seminal anticolonial theorist social philosopher known for his theory that some neuroses are socially generated and for his writings on behalf of the national liberation of colonial peoples. His critiques influenced subsequent generations of thinkers and activists.
Zora Neale Hurston
Selection: Their Eyes Were Watching God (novel).
Born in Alabama in 1891, writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance and author of the masterwork 'Their Eyes Were Watching God.' She was also an outstanding folklorist and anthropologist who recorded cultural history, as illustrated by her Mules and Men. Hurston died in poverty in 1960, before a revival of interest led to posthumous recognition of her accomplishments. The Zora Neale Hurston Award was established in 2008; it is awarded to an American Library Association member who has "demonstrated leadership in promoting African American literature"
Selection: Fences (play/film).
Famed playwright August Wilson, author of a cycle of plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, about black American life, was born on April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wrote his first play, Jitney, in 1979. Fences earned him a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1987. Wilson won another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, for The Piano Lesson. In 1996, Seven Guitars premiered on the Broadway stage, followed by King Hedley II in 2001 and Gem of the Ocean in 2004. Wilson died on October 2, 2005, in Seattle, Washington.
Selection: The Middle Passage (poem).
Robert Hayden was an African-American poet and professor who is best known as the author of poems, including “Those Winter Sundays” and “The Middle Passage.” Robert Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit on August 4, 1913. Hayden studied poetry at the University of Michigan, and went on to teaching at both Michigan University and Fisk University. Hayden was also one of the most celebrated African-American poets of his day. He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on February 25, 1980.
Chiminanda Ngozi Adiche
Selection: Americanah (novel).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the top ten most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has a started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Ms. Adichie divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Selection: The Case for Reparations (article).
Ta-Nehisi Coates attended Howard University. His articles have appeared in local and national publications, including the Village Voice, the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic, where he is currently a national correspondent. He was a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 and a journalist-in-residence at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. His book Between The World And Me won the National Book Award in 2015. Ta-Nehisi is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Since 2016, Coates has written Marvel’s The Black Panther comic book.
Selection: Bad Feminist (book).
Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Timesbestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.