The literature of the American Negroes is in English; but a special African-American dialect has long emerged which has been elevated by some writers and mainly by PL Dunbar (When Malindy Sings) to literary dignity.
Characteristic of black literature is a whole special pathos that unites it with the other cultural manifestations of the race to the point of constituting an inseparable whole, essentially based on a fundamental social romanticism., absolutely unknown to American culture, and which finds its inspiration in the sentiment of race. Writers, poets and artists are inspired by the central problem of black life, animator of art and poetry and if we see diversity of addresses in black literature this is due to the personal temperament of the various authors. The opinion of Brawley does not seem acceptable, according to which the old romantic trend and a new realistic current are distinguished in black literature. These two terms, in their traditional meaning, are not applicable to the literary production of the Negroes, in which there is neither the romanticism of the English Burns, Shelley or Keats, nor the demure-bourgeois realism of the Howells school, nor the new American realism. of the psychologist Dreiser,
In tracing, albeit briefly, black literary history, the precursors, who still lived in the slave period, cannot be overlooked. Thus Jupiter Hammon (circa 1720-circa 1800), a slave in Long Island, who published in 1761, a first volume of verse (An Evening Thought), with the proceeds of the sale of which he obtained the emancipation; while the Address to the Negroes of the State of New York (1786) was then taken as a model by the sociologists of the end of the century. He also dedicated a poem to Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), transported as a young girl from Senegal to Boston, where she acquired the affection of her masters, the Wheatleys, who, freed her from servile jobs, allowed her to educate herself and be considered a true prodigy, in Boston and also in London: we have over forty poems and poems of her collected in three volumes (Poem on the Death of the Reverend George Whitefield, Boston 1770; Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, London 1773; Elegy Sacred to the Memory of Dr. Samuel Cooper, Boston 1784) and his letters to her friend Obour Tanner (ed. Deane, Boston 1864).
Georges Moses Horton (1797-1880) is remembered The Hope of Liberty (Boston 1829); as by Frances Ellen Watkins, Poems on Miscella ń eous Subjects (1854). In the verses of Albery A. Whitman, Methodist pastor (Not a Man and yet a Man, Springfield 1877) one feels the strong influence of Longfellow and Moore. Already in the first lines (Oakand Ivy, 1893; Majors and minors, 1895) by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) is all the romantic lyricism of the black soul, strengthened by a strongly conceptual ethicism; the Lyrics of lowly Lije (1896) are a collection of easy and spontaneous verses springing from a very clear and fresh source of feeling. Other collections (Lyrics of the Hearthside, 1899; Lyrics of Love and Laughter, 1903; Lyrics of Sunshine, and Shadow, 1905) reaffirm his poetic genius and make him the initiator of contemporary black poetry, while critical ethics asserts itself in his novels (The Uncalled, 1896; The Love of Landry, 1900; The Fanatics, 1901; The Sport of the Gods, 1902) and in his volumes of short stories (Folks from Dixie, 1898; The Strength of Gideon and other stories, 1900; In Old Plantation Days, 1903; The Heart of Happy Hollow, 1904), seritti during his wanderings in Colorado, South America and Europe.
Greater fame as a novelist at the turn of the century acquired Charles Waddell Chesnutt from Cleveland who began his extensive production. one literary as a novelist (The Conjure Woman, 1899; The Wife of his Youth and other stories of Color – Line, 1899). The latter are real life stories, drawn from black environments with exquisite taste and full of a descriptivism in which the author touches the highest peaks of a very pure art. The House behind the Cedars (1900) is his first great novel, woven on the sentimental story of a black girl, Rena Walden, loved at the same time by three young men, one of whom, a black like her, with her affection, dedication and tenderness Rena’s love: the psychological investigation is conducted with a balanced sense of objectivity. In The Marrow of the Tradition (1901) the Chesnutt is more dominated by the problems of race, agitated in a more realistic environment.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, born in Great Barrington, Mass. (1868), is both a historian, a sociologist and a staunch defender of the rights of his race (The suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1895; John Brown, 1909; The Negro, 1915). A vigorous poet, he is the author of the “Litany of Atlanta”. In his first novel (The Quest of the Silver Fleece, 1911) Du Bois tackles the main social problems presented by the life of the Negroes in America with acute intuition and an easy sense of art; also his second novel (Dark Princess, 1928) offers an admirable picture of a Negro environment in which the protagonist is agitated, combining in himself, in the drama of his heart, the intimate drama of the Negro race.
Among the initiators of Negro literature should be mentioned William Stanley Braithwaite, a native of Boston (1878) poet and critic, author of Lyrics of Life and Love (1904), The House of Falling Leaves (1908), in which the technique of thick verse reminds us of Keats and Shelley. In addition to him, James Weldon Johnson, brilliant writer who gave the note Autobiography of an Ex – Colored Man (1912), a very pleasant reading. His volume of poems (Fifty Years and other poems, 1917) reveals a strong poet to whom Dunbar has not failed to impress the taste of the romantic. Around them we find other poets and writers, such as S. Cotter (The Band of Gideon), Fenton Johnson (A little dreamcing ; Visin of the dusk ; Songs of the soil), Alice D. Nelson (The Goodness of St Rocque and other stories), Jessie Fausset (Christmas Eve in France), Georgia D. Johnson (The heart of a Woman and other poems ; Bronze ; An Autumn love cycle), etc.
But alongside these, historians, educators and polemics must also be remembered. Among these, we must remember at least Booker Taliaferro Washitngton, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Bishop Daniel Payne, MR Delany, W. Still, GW Williams, TG Steward, JW Cromwell, CG Wodson, B. Brawley, etc.
After the World War there was a violent movement led by the new apostle of the Negro race, Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica, since 1918, who gave new and greater impetus to the black literary revival. Under the banner of a renewed nationalism, new ranks of poets and novelists spread the word of freedom and independence, with a more masculine and vibrant form than that of the first romantics. Three names mainly embody the new trend: Eric Walrond, Claude MacKay and Countee Cullen, regarded as the initiators of realistic black literature. Yet the renunciation of romanticism is not yet decided in the new champions. If it sometimes seems banned in MacKay’s interesting novel (Home to Harlem), full of lively folkloric flavor, elsewhere the same author shows himself dominated by the passionate romanticism of his masters (Harlem Shadows). In Walrond himself (Tropic Death) we find the complaints of Dunbar and even of Horton, and in the verses of the psychic Cullen (Color ; Copper Sun ; The Ballad of the Brown Girl) that romantic element which seems connatural to black poets.