by Rafia Zafar
From America's revolutionary period to the Civil War and Reconstruction, African Americans contributed important works to the country's blossoming literary canon. Written in a variety of genres, from neoclassical poetry to sentimental fiction, their work represented a desire to bridge the racial divide and to "write themselves into acceptance." Striving for an integrated audience, they recounted experiences and voiced opinions from a unique, African American perspective. Rafia Zafar uncovers the strategies these early writers used both to create an African American identity and to make their visions and stories accessible to white readers. Alongside these pioneers of black American literature Zafar juxtaposes some familiar European American writers. Beginning with Phillis Wheatley's implicit engagements with other colonial-era poets and ending with ultimately tragic success story of Elizabeth Keckley, ex-slave, seamstress, and confidante to a First Lady, black authors employed virtually every dominant literary genre while cannily manipulating the nature of their presence. Zafar demonstrates that in doing so, these forerunners of modern black American writers both adapted to and reacted against a milieu of social resistance and cultural antipathy. By the end of Reconstruction, this first century of black writers had paved the way for a distinctive, African American literature.
Paperback: 249 pages